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Saracens off to winning start in Heineken Cup after 23-17 victory over Connacht at the Sportsground
10:17pm Friday 11th October 2013 in Sport
Saracens got their Heineken Cup campaign off to a winning start with a hard-fought 23-17 win against Connacht in Galway.
Sarries were in front throughout the match but were never able to establish a big enough lead to feel comfortable and it was largely thanks to the brilliant kicking of Owen Farrell that the Men in Black recorded an important win.
Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton both scored tries in the first half but in the second period it was up to Farrell to put on another six points as Mark McCall's men held on in the latter stages.
Farrell returned to fly-half and Will Fraser kept his place at flanker as Sarries looked to avoid the kind of upset Connacht had previously inflicted on the likes of Harlequins and Biarritz in this competition.
While Sarries map out their teams well in advance for league matches for rotation purposes, it is understood the Men in Black classed this is as 'selection' game and have fielded a very strong side as a result.
George Kruis continues at lock forward while Alex Goode comes back in at full-back after starting at number ten against Wasps.
Saracens struck first as Wyles, playing inside centre, linked up well with Farrell and David Strettle before sprinting 30 metres and touching down. Farrell converted to give the Men in Black a 7-0 lead.
Connacht though were playing a high-intensity game and the home side reduced the deficit to four when Dan Parks kicked a successful penalty.
For all their endeavour though Sarries looked the more threatening and it was visitors who scored the second try as the ball was spread wide and Ashton ran over the line in the corner. Farrell added the extras with an excellent kick to extend the lead to 14-3.
The game was still very much in the balance however and Connacht refused to lie down as scrum-half Kieran Mamion pounced on a loose ball to dive over for the third try with less than 25 minutes on the clock. Parks converted to reduce the gap to 14-10.
Sarries began to assert control over the match and when Farrell extended the lead to 17-10 it looked like the away team were starting to find their rhythm.
But back came Connacht again. Winger Danie Poolman raced through to score a second try against the run of play and Parks converted to see the teams level at 17-17 at half-time.
Farrell restored the visitors' lead early in the second half with a penalty and that's how it remained for the majority of the second half.
Connacht pressed and probed but were unable to breach a resolute Saracens defence and when Farrell added another penalty with five minutes left on the clock, the result was all but confirmed.
Spurred on by a passionate home crowd, the home side gave their all in the dying moments but it wasn't to be and the Men in Black held on for an important win.
Saracens host four-times champions Toulouse at Wembley next week.
Saracens: 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Steve Borthwick (capt), 5. George Kruis, 6. Kelly Brown, 7. Will Fraser, 8. Billy Vunipola; 9. Neil de Kock, 10. Owen Farrell, 11. David Strettle, 12. Chris Wyles, 13. Joel Tomkins, 14. Chris Ashton, 15. Alex Goode
Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Rhys Gill, 18. James Johnston, 19. Alastair Hargreaves, 20. Ernst Joubert, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Duncan Taylor, 23. Michael Tagicakibau
Connacht: 1. Brett Wilkinson, 2. Sean Henry, 3. Rodney Ah You, 4. Michael Swift (captain), 5. Craig Clarke, 6. John Muldoon,7. Jake Heenan, 8. George Naoupu, 9. Kieran Marmion, 10. Dan Parks, 11. Danie Poolman, 12. James So’oialo, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 14. Fionn Carr, 15. Gavin Duffy
Replacements: 16. Jason Harris-Wright, 17. Peter Reilly, 18. JP Cooney, 19. Aly Muldowney, 20. Andrew Browne, 21. Paul O’Donohoe, 22. Craig Ronaldson, 23. Tiernan O’Halloran
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