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Saracens off to perfect start with 42-20 bonus-point win over London Irish at Twickenham in the Premiership
Jamie George’s two first-half tries helped Saracens get their Premiership campaign off to the perfect start with a 42-20 bonus-point victory over London Irish at Twickenham.
It was an impressive performance for Sarries, who never really had to extend themselves beyond third gear as they scored four tries through George's double, Mako Vunipola and Chris Ashton.
George, starting at hooker in place of the banned Schalk Brits, seized his chance in the first-team with both hands, cruising over the line twice in the opening 40 minutes while Irish scored a try of their own through Kieran Low.
Mako Vunipola added a third try in the second half and despite Marland Yarde crossing the whitewash for the Exiles late on, Ashton ensured Sarries had the final word, earning the bonus point with a fourth score in the dying moments.
Owen Farrell notched 22 points, kicking six penalties and two conversions.
Billy Vunipola was handed his Saracens debut but older brother Mako was named on the bench with Rhys Gill preferred at number one. Jacques Burger was selected at flanker after recovering from a long-term knee injury.
Saracens were assertive in the early stages, putting Irish under pressure and after four minutes, Farrell chalked up the Men in Black’s first points of the season with a penalty.
The Exiles struggled to gain a foothold and within six minutes Sarries extended their lead. Ashton’s kick into the corner forced Irish to concede a line-out close to their line and soon after Richard Wigglesworth fed George inside who scored the Men in Black’s first try of the campaign.
Farrell added the extras and after ten minutes played, Saracens established a deserved 10-0 lead.
Waking from their slumber, Irish began to turn the tide and an incisive break from Topsy Ojo resulted in Saracens giving away a penalty which Ian Humphreys converted to reduce the deficit after 13 minutes.
Irish were enjoying some authority in the game, and Ojo in particular was causing problems, but the Exiles were unable to breach a resolute Sarries defence which included some bone-crunching hits from Joel Tomkins, Alistair Hargreaves and Farrell.
Without gaining any more reward for their impetus, it was Saracens who added the next points as Farrell kicked another penalty to make it 13-3.
And it was very nearly five more moments later, as Ashton went close but was held up over the line just after the half-hour mark.
It was now Sarries who were back in the ascendancy though and McCall’s side should have profited from three successive scrums near the line but Irish survived.
As the half drew to a close however, two tries were scored in four minutes.
Saracens were first to cross the line and it was the same two players involved again as a brilliantly constructed line-out saw Wigglesworth make a neat inside pass to George who sidestepped before bursting home for his second score. Farrell missed the conversion.
Just as the Men in Black looked like they might put their opponents out of sight, Irish hauled themselves back into the game.
A sloppy turnover from kick-off allowed David Paice to break and the Exiles hooker did brilliantly to offload out of the back of his hand to Low who sprinted into the base of the posts for the try. Humphreys converted to make the score 18-10.
Irish’s delight was tempered however just before half-time as great work by Hargreaves and Matt Stevens earned Saracens a penalty which Farrell kicked to extend the gap to 11 points before the interval.
Two penalties out of three from Farrell in the first ten minutes of the second period meant the Men in Black led 27-10 before Humphreys reduced the gap with a penalty.
Not for the first time in the game however, Irish failed to secure ball from the kick-off and Saracens made their opponents pay the price as the ball was distributed wide and substitute Mako Vunipola crashed over from close range. Farrell converted.
Stevens was shown a yellow card for an ugly off-the ball tackle and Irish continued to frustrate Saracens' attempts to find a way through.
In a bizarre sequence of events the visitors then scored themselves. As Yarde was receiving treatment on the field what appeared to be cramp, Chris Hala’ufia broke near him and Yarde jumped to his feet, received a pass and ran over the line for a try.
Humphreys converted to make it 34-20 with ten minutes to play but Farrell hit back with a penalty of his own.
Saracens desperately chased a bonus point in the last few minutes and finally they broke through. With a minute to play Ashton found space but was tackled by Eamonn Sheridan just short. The Engand winger however stretched his arm forward and managed to push the ball just on to the line for the all-important fourth try.
Farrell missed the conversion in the last play of the game but the damage had already been done and Saracens took home all five points from Twickenham.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles (Ransom, 65) 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt (Mordt, 78), 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth (Spencer, 70), 1 Rhys Gill (M. Vunipola, 50), 2 Jamie George (Spurling, 78), 3 Matt Stevens, 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 5 Alistair Hargreaves (Kruis, 60), 6 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger (du Plessis, 74), 8 Ernst Joubert (Wray, 60)
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 George Kruis, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom
London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14 Marland Yarde (Fenby, 73), 13 Guy Armitage (Geraghty, 73), 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Tomás O’Leary (capt) (Allinson, 73), 1 Matt Parr (Halavatau, 52), 2 David Paice (Stevens, 74), 3 Halani Aulika (Yapp, 65), 4 Nic Rouse, 5 Bryn Evans, 6 Kieran Low (Danaher, 66), 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 8 Jon Fisher (Hala’ufia, 51)
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 John Yapp, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Declan Danaher, 20 Chris Hala’ufia, 21 Andrew Fenby, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Darren Allinson
Referee: Greg Garner
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