Saracens 31-17 Bath, Aviva Premiership
Sarries power past lacklustre Bath
September 22, 2013
Saracens' Matt Stevens dives over to score at Allianz Park
© Getty Images
Saracens climbed to the top of the Aviva Premiership with a thumping 31-17 victory over Bath at Allianz Park on Sunday.
By the end of the first quarter the hosts led 17-3 and when the interval arrived they had powered 31-3 ahead to all but guarantee their third successive five-point haul in three matches. David Strettle crossed twice and there were also tries for Alex Goode - making his comeback from shoulder surgery - and Matt Stevens with Ashton kicking all four conversions and a penalty as Bath's triumphant opening to the Premiership was blown apart.
Mako and Billy Vunipola made noteworthy contributions once more and England head coach Stuart Lancaster will also have been pleased by Chris Ashton's performance. Although Ashton failed to breach the whitewash, he was influential with his running off the ball and work in support helping unlock Bath's traumatised defence.
The London club's offer to refund tickets if their former centre Gavin Henson, starting in Bath's midfield, scored a point went unfilled with the former Wales back unable to make an impression.
Bath arrived at Allianz Park with wins against Newcastle and Leicester in the bank, but surprisingly made four changes with fly-half George Ford demoted to the bench. Their tries were supplied by Semesa Rokoduguni and Dave Attwood and despite a vastly-improved second half, it was a desperate afternoon from a club hopeful of breaking into the top four
Remarkably for a side that was previously unbeaten, Bath found themselves in dire straights within the first quarter. The ball-carrying of Mako Vunipola was influential and it was a steal by the England loosehead at a 10th minute line-out that led to the opening try for Strettle. Vunipola charged upfield, the ball was recycled and Saracens ruthlessly exploited an overlap on the left with quick hands enabling Strettle to coast over.
Nine minutes later Goode had doubled the try-tally when an up and under by Farrell was snatched by Saracens from under the noses of Bath's Anthony Watson and Tom Biggs. Once again the Premiership leaders pounced with Goode celebrating his return from injury by finishing the try.
It was becoming embarrassing for Bath as Stevens hurled himself through the middle of the breakdown - there was a complete absence of white shirts - from close range to post the third try.
The visitors were down to 14 men by this point, hooker Rob Webber having been sent to the sin bin for killing the ball, and with Farrell landing every shot at goal it was looking like a long afternoon. First-half injury time arrived and Ashton was denied a try only by a cruel bounce of the ball, but he helped keep the move alive and Strettle crossed to post the bonus point by half-time.
Bath finally offered some resistance in the third quarter and just as Saracens appeared to have weathered their storm, Rokoduguni leapt on a poor pass by Goode to run in an intercept try converted by substitute Ford. Ashton executed a try-saving tackle on Ford with five minutes remaining, but Saracens could not prevent substitute Dave Attwood from burrowing over late on.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall singled out Ashton for significant praise following the game. "Chris judges himself purely on whether he scores a try or not, but for the last two weeks he's been exceptional," McCall said. "He's taken a lot of stick over the last 12 months or so for various aspects of his game but he was brilliant against Bath.
"One thing he's brilliant at is scoring tries and that will happen, but his work on the ball, his collisions and his kick chase were at an international level. It was a wonderful tackle on George Ford near the end, but the way he did things that aren't that sexy was important as well. David Strettle is 4-1 up in tries after three games, but Chris was exceptional. He's hungry to get better."
Bath coach Mike Ford dismissed criticism of the widespread changes they made for this game. "You have to be deep inside our camp to understand what we're trying to do. There was a plan behind it. You don't throw any game," Ford said. "It wasn't great. We were blown away in the first half, Saracens squeezed us really well and we compounded one or two things. They played really well."
Saracens David Strettle touches down for one of his two tries against Bath © Getty Images
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