Bath outclassed as eight-try Saracens take game to a different level

Robert Kitson at Allianz Park
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Chris Ashton dives over to score his second try for Saracens against Bath.<br></span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images</span>
Chris Ashton dives over to score his second try for Saracens against Bath.
Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

For a supposed crunch game between two title-chasing English clubs this was as horribly one-sided as they come. Saracens may have suffered two defeats in four Premiership games over the Six Nations period but an eight-try romp underlined their strength when their Test cavalry are back. Thirty-six unanswered second-half points also condemned Bath to their heaviest league defeat for 15 years.

The fact Bath, on paper at least, were fielding arguably their best starting XV of the season made Saracens’ effort all the better. By the end it was almost exhibition stuff, with clear daylight between the sides regardless of the arrival of BST. Glasgow, who are heading to north London on Sunday for a European Champions’ Cup quarter-final, may be best advised not to study the turbo-charged final half hour too closely.

The watching Eddie Jones, who had 16 past or present national squad members to monitor, will also have driven home in pensive mood. Fresh from addressing England’s footballers this week, he had travelled on a twin-pronged mission: to check how swiftly his players could put their Dublin grand slam disappointment behind them and scout out a few candidates from both teams for this summer’s tour to Argentina. Here, instead, was slightly concerning evidence that a gap in quality, if not financial clout, is developing between the top two or three teams in the Premiership and the rest.

The England coach could also not have failed to notice the influence of Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton, both of whom showed a recent lack of international rugby need not be a barrier to personal improvement. Barritt, as he so often does, led by example while Ashton, who picked up two late poacher’s tries having been involved in a contender for try of the season, boosted his outside claims for Lions tour selection. “You could see how clever a rugby player he is, which is something people don’t give him credit for,” said Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby.

Alex Goode, back at full-back after 11 weeks out with torn ankle ligaments, also slotted back as if he had never been away, but it was an unhappy day for George Ford opposite his England colleague Owen Farrell. Even before the floodgates opened, the Leicester-bound Ford was finding life tricky and, with a blustery wind at Saracens’ backs after the interval, he and his team-mates had absolutely no answer. “We didn’t look like we had a lot of fight in us when we were going backwards, which was disappointing,” said Todd Blackadder, Bath’s director of rugby. “We’re a better team than this and we need to show that.”

If his side can defeat Leicester at Twickenham on Saturday week a top-four place may be attainable but on this evidence, it would be distinctly unwise to bet on it. Apart from the second quarter, when the grey-shirted visitors’ successfully slowed the game down and Francois Louw, playing his 100th game for Bath, caused problems at the breakdown, there was only one side in it, with at least a couple of Saracens tries worthy of any highlights reel.

Running the ball out of their own 22 has not always been their modus operandi but with a close-range score from Jamie George already in the bag, a quite brilliant 12th minute try demonstrated to everyone what a little ambition can achieve. When Richard Wigglesworth called a mark facing his own tryline there seemed little on but Goode decided otherwise, kept the ball in hand and launched a length of the field surge. Ashton and Wigglesworth swapped clever passes and even when George’s pass to Sean Maitland failed to put the wing clear, Goode was on hand to dive into the left corner.

It summed up the range of attacking talent Saracens possess when they choose to use it and a brilliant reflex pick-up and touchdown by Maitland just before half-time further illustrated the point. Anthony Watson had previously sliced over for a try to give Bath some encouragement but once the home pack really put the hammer down the effect was spectacular. Schalk Brits secured the bonus point on the hour from another lineout drive, Barritt claimed a well deserved score three minutes later, Ashton, in full “splash” mode, scored with a flourish, and Billy Vunipola also crossed.

It left Bath without an away league win since October and unsuccessful on any trip to Saracens since 2010. Now fewer than 18 temporary signings have further contributed to the state of flux; Saracens, by contrast, are a model of consistency. “That was us at our best,” McCall said. “We took our game to a different level in the last half hour.” Glasgow should be suitably wary.

Saracens Goode; Ashton, Bosch (D Taylor, 56), Barritt (capt); (Lozowski, 65), Maitland; Farrell, Wigglesworth (H Taylor, 68); M Vunipola (Lamositele, 66), George (Brits, 56), Figallo (Koch, 61), Itoje, Hamilton (Conlon, 65), Rhodes, Wray (Brown, 72), B Vunipola.

Tries George, Goode, Maitland, Brits, Barritt, Ashton 2, B Vunipola. Cons Farrell 5. Pen Farrell.

Bath Watson; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Tapuai, Banahan; Ford (co-capt; Hastings, 77), Fotuali’i (Cook, 72); Catt (Obano, 72), Batty (Brooker, 68), Lahiff (Palma-Newport, 63) Ewels, Charteris (Stooke, 63), Ellis, Louw (co-capt; Grant, 65), Faletau.

Try Watson. Con Ford. Pen Ford.

Referee W Barnes. Attendance 10,000.

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