Saracens 13-6 London Wasps, Aviva Premiership, December 26
Saull powers Sarries past Wasps
December 26, 2010
Saracens flanker Andy Saull scored the only try at Wembley
© PA Photos
Gavin Henson enjoyed a winning comeback as Saracens scrapped their way to second in the Aviva Premiership table with a 13-6 victory over Wasps at Wembley on Boxing Day .
The former Wales international played half an hour at outside-centre to end a 20-month exile from the elite game but was upstaged by Man of the Match Ernst Joubert and replacement Andy Saull, who conspired to dominate Wasps at both the lineout and breakdown.
Saull was brought on at half time following a dire opening 40 and the England Saxons openside quickly bagged the game's decisive try to take some pressure off the shoulders of young fly-half Owen Farrell, who kicked his side's remaining points despite constant harassment from the magnificent Serge Betsen.
Around 50,000 fans braved the cold snap and a tube strike to pack the stands - with one lucky punter leaving with bulging pockets after winning £250,000 in the now traditional half-time crossbar challenge.
Farrell sent his first shot at goal well wide of the mark and Wasps took the let-off as an invitation, sparking the game's first meaningful attack through a quick tap from excellent scrum-half Joe Simpson. The 22-year-old was aided by some swift hands from Andy Powell as they probed along the flank but Saracens were on top at the breakdown and quickly snuffed out the danger.
Sarries looked to bring their pack into play with a heavyweight maul but Farrell could only reward their efforts with a sliced drop-goal. The youngster then sent a brace of clearance kicks spiralling out on the full as Betsen went fly-half hunting and Powell got through more good work with a solid carry and offload to release Tom Varndell. The England wing skinned the increasingly hapless fly-half and replacement Alex Goode, on for Chris Wyles, only for Simon Shaw to knock on in the shadow of the posts.
Saracens got the upper hand at the lineout early on and refused to let go, with the static Wasps set-piece falling prey to Steve Borthwick and the athletic Joubert on a number of occasions. Nevertheless their accuracy in open play was poor and allowed Wasps to maintain a foothold with precious little first-phase possession.
Farrell finally opened the scoring with a simple penalty on 35 minutes, Joubert having made major inroads off the base of a solid scrum close to the Wasps line, but failed to add a second three-pointer with another loose strike in the final minute of the first half.
After the high-stakes half-time action the good cheer trickled down to Saull, who scuttled over for the first try of the game seven minutes after the restart. Having been introduced in place of Kelly Brown, the openside latched onto a perfectly timed Neil De Kock offload and once he was through the gap he was able to scramble the ball across the whitewash.
Farrell landed the conversion for a 10-point lead and Saull was soon back in the thick of it as he provided the link-play following a bustling break by Brad Barritt - the movement eventually breaking down as an ambitious drop-goal from his fly-half was charged down.
Henson was introduced from the bench on 50 minutes and barely two minutes later crashed across the Wasps' try-line only to be help up by a despairing tackle from Simpson - who rescued his side after some kamikaze play inside their 22 and quickly put them on the front-foot with some elusive running.
Walder landed his side's first points as a result of Simpson's high-tempo approach and added a second to close the gap to four after Wasps' pack finally came to the party with two scrum turnovers courtesy of a revitalised front-row and replacement loose-head Tim Payne.
Sarries hooker Schalk Brits then injected some explosive action of his own in the loose to help his team restore their seven-point cushion, the former Springbok hooker showing all of his pace and invention in a 30-yard break that was only halted by a mass offside from Wasps.
Farrell stepped up and converted the penalty on 61 minutes and their lead remained intact as Wasps again faltered at the lineout five minutes later - their sixth loss on their own throw. Walder had turned down a shot at the posts to give them territory with a good kick but the aerial prowess of the away side again left plenty to be desired.
Saull pounced for two vital turnovers in the closing stages as Wasps tried in vain for a levelling score, ensuring another day to remember at Wembley for Sarries and perhaps a springboard to greater things for one fleet-footed playmaker.
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