Bath 13-17 Saracens, Aviva Premiership, November 21
Saracens return to winning ways
November 21, 2010
Saracens' James Short pounces to score a try at The Rec
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Saracens got their Aviva Premiership challenge back on track with a 17-13 victory over Bath at The Rec.
Tries from wingers Kameli Ratuvou and James Short and an eye-catching first Premiership start by 19-year-old fly-half Owen Farrell ensured Saracens bounced back from their shock defeat at the hands of Exeter last time out. A try from fullback Nick Abendanon and the boot of centre Olly Barkley had given the hosts a half-time advantage but they were shut out after the break by some excellent defence from Saracens who as a result climbed to third in the table.
Both sides had to cope without key players, Bath being without England skipper Lewis Moody plus international team-mates Davey Wilson, Shontayne Hape and Matt Banahan, while club captain Luke Watson was out injured. Saracens, already without injured No.8 Ernst Joubert and back-row partners Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown on international duty, found their preparations further disrupted when Alex Goode (thigh muscle) and Brad Barritt (finger) failed fitness tests before kick-off. But young guns Farrell, No.8 Jackson Wray and winger James Short all stepped up for the visitors and delivered big performances.
All the early pressure came from Saracens but Bath had little trouble in dealing with the best the visitors could muster. And instead it was the hosts who opened the scores with Barkley landing a long range penalty after his forwards had made an impressive statement at the set scrum.
Saracens continued to press forward but a lack of precision and some excellent defence proved their downfall with a big hit on No.8 Jackson Wray bringing an emphatic end to one promising break. Bath continued to have the better of the exchanges at the scrum but their own indiscipline blunted much of their own attacking endeavour with a potentially priceless interception going to ground. However, a seemingly harsh penalty against Saracens hooker Schalk Brits for a high tackle allowed Barkley to double his side's lead from the kicking tee.
And a piece of opportunistic play from Abendanon cemented their lead. A kick ahead from Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens was half charged down and dropped tantalisingly in the Saracens midfield and Abendanon won the race to the ball before hacking it on into the 22 where the bounce went his way allowing him to scoop the ball up and touch down for a try. Barkley added the simple conversion but Saracens hit back immediately with a great break from wing David Strettle laying the foundation for their next foray into the Bath 22. Abendanon was penalised as the home side looked to re-group and Farrell put his side on the board with the kick.
Saracens ended the opening period on the front foot with a strong run from flanker Andy Saull driving the hosts onto the back foot. The ball was recycled well and one of a number of clever kicks deployed by Farrell during the half just evaded Saull on the Bath line with Bath's Sam Vesty doing just enough to avert the danger.
The whistle of referee Tim Wigglesworth dominated the early exchanges after the break with the set piece proving a problem for both sides. Barkley was off target with his next penalty attempt but Saracens were not so careless when their next opportunity arose. A kick ahead into space from Farrell created the initial opening and Short hacked before winger Ratuvou pounced to claim the try although the Television Match Official was required to confirm the score after a desperate challenge from Bath wing Tom Biggs appeared to have dislodged the ball. Farrell's conversion brought his side to within three points and they soon had the lead.
A chip ahead from replacement scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth put Abendanon under pressure and the fullback's attempted clearance was charged down by Short who gleefully picked up the loose ball before dotting down under the posts. Once again Farrell added the conversion to bolster Saracens' revival but they failed to extend their advantage.
Bath raised their game in the final quarter in the hope of a late turnaround with Barkley spilling the ball in contact after a promising set move on the Saracens 22 threatened to cut the visitors open. But they were not deterred with Abendanon wriggling free a few minutes later before being felled by Strettle. A good kick chase then forced Saracens' Nils Mordt into touch inside his own 22 and from the resulting lineout Bath peppered the Saracens defence only to come up empty-handed.
And any hopes the home side had of conjuring a great escape were all but ended when Barkley was sin-binned with two minutes on the clock for a high tackle on Saracens replacement Sam Stanley. Wigglesworth made a mess of the resulting penalty but it did not matter with Saracens' young guns able to celebrate a much-needed win.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.