Saracens go top of the Aviva Premiership after beating London Welsh 35-14 at Allianz Park
Saracens are four points clear at the top of the Aviva Premiership after securing a bonus-point 35-14 victory over London Welsh at Allianz Park.
The Men in Black put on a disjointed display that constantly flitted between flair and frustration but second half tries from Joel Tomkins, Will Fraser and David Strettle added to a penalty score in the first period to ensure the win.
George Kruis was pulled out of the starting line-up because of injury meaning there was only one change from the Saracens side that beat Leicester Tigers as Duncan Taylor replaced Adam Powell at inside centre.
The Men in Black were slow to get going against Tigers but not so this week as within thirty seconds Alistair Hargreaves closed down Tyson Keats’ clearance before winning a penalty which Charlie Hodgson chipped over.
That set the tone for the half as Sarries dominated possession and early joy for Strettle, Tomkins and James Short suggested the Welsh defence might open up if put under sustained pressure.
Sustaining their pressure though was where Saracens consistently fell down as handling errors and a tendency to force the offload regularly allowed Welsh off the hook.
Hodgson added a second penalty to make it 6-0 before missing soon after from a very straight forward position suggesting the Sarries fly-half is still not completely comfortable kicking on the artificial turf.
Welsh were camped in their 22 for the majority of the opening half hour but on 27 minutes a poor pass from Matt Stevens began a brilliant Welsh counter attack with Seb Stegmann eventually wrong-footing Short to score against the run of play. Henson missed the conversion and Welsh trailed 6-5.
Phil Mackenzie was sin-binned for repeated offending before Saracens extended their advantage again with a penalty try and Hodgson this time made no mistake from the tee, converting to make it 13-5.
The visitors were then reduced to 13 after Tom Bristow was also yellow carded but Saracens lost concentration again as Tom Arscott strolled through the midfield before winning a penalty which Henson slotted over.
With the half drawing to a close Hodgson added another penalty before Henson drilled a drop-goal off the bar and over the posts to make it 16-11 at the break.
With the wind behind them Saracens started the second half brightly and scored their second try of the match as a neat interchange between Taylor and Tomkins saw the latter cross the whitewash.
Hodgson added the extras and another penalty before Henson struck home from the tee as well to make it 23-14 on the hour mark.
Sarries were in control more than the scoreline suggested and the Men in Black scored their third try in the 62nd minute as a smart offload by Schalk Brits set up Fraser and TMO ruled the flanker had just squeezed home in the corner.
Welsh however were not so fortunate as in the space of three minutes two ‘tries’ went to the television official but neither were awarded, the second of which looked suspiciously legitimate.
First Dan George was – correctly – judged to have been held up but when Henson sprinted into the corner in the 69th minute it was difficult to see what referee Luke Pearce saw wrong in the build up.
Survive though Saracens did and to rub salt in the Welsh wounds, Pearce then failed to spot, or review, Henson clearly being impeded in midfield as Strettle then exploited the gap to score the Men in Black’s fourth, bonus-point, try.
Saracens weren’t at their best by any means but the win puts them in pole position before they host Harlequins in three week’s time.
Next Sunday the Men in Black travel to Sale Sharks in the LV=Cup.