Saracens firmly put their Six Nations blip behind them with a crushing 53-10 victory over Bath that not only reminded Premiership leaders Wasps that they face a real battle to wrestle the title away from them this season, but also dealt a serious blow to the West Country side’s play-off hopes.
With the likes of Owen Farrell, Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers back in the side, Saracens romped to an eight-try win at Allianz Park to move within a point of second-placed Exeter Chiefs and six behind the pace-setters, and provide the perfect platform for next weekend’s resumption of European duties.
But for Bath, serious questions will be asked now as the return of George Ford, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph, along with Wales duo Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau, did nothing to halt their three-match losing streak, leaving them three points off the top four.
Bath had barely touched the ball by the time they were stood under their own posts, and it was the concession of two penalties in as many minutes that led to the opening score. After Richard Wigglesworth kicked to touch on the right, Saracens claimed the lineout ball safely and spread left, a lovely flat pass from Farrell releasing Sean Maitland on the left touchline.
With the Scotland international wing heading for touch, he flicked the ball behind him into the waiting arms of Alex Goode, the full-back sprinting into the Bath 22 before being halted by a high tackle. That gave Farrell the chance to put the pressure on by going for the corner, and after Maro Itoje claimed the ball at the back of the lineout, the pack shoved George over for the try, Farrell converting.
It was a poor start for Bath, and it didn’t get much better when Ford’s penalty from the halfway line floated wide of the left upright, yet worse was to come. After Wigglesworth gathered Kahn Fotuali’i’s box-kick to call a mark, the scrum-half went quickly and released Goode, Saracens willing to attack from their own 22. The England full-back teased the Bath back line with a drifting run across field before Brad Barritt straightened.
The captain’s powerful burst put the Bath defence in panic mode, and that opened up space on the right for Chris Ashton before he cut back towards the posts, charging past the Wales No 8 Faletau with ease. Having started the move, Wigglesworth was on hand to exchange passes with Ashton, before Watson hauled down the Saracens wing 10 metres short of the try line. Saracens recycled and attacked left, and when Maitland was hauled down short, Goode was on hand to pick the ball up and dart over in the corner. Bath looked shell-shocked, but Farrell’s missed conversion at least held the deficit at 12 points after 13 minutes.
However, it appeared to spark the visitors into life, with Ford getting them onto the scoreboard just short of the 20-minute mark with close-range penalty after Jackson Wray was guilty of a neck-roll clearout. A sustained period of pressure on the Saracens defence inside their 22 took its toll, and after they coped well to repel three minutes of the Bath attack, the second wave produced the desired result for the West Country side.
Joseph was given a yard of space – courtesy of a forward pass from fellow centre Ben Tapuai – to chip downfield. Wigglesworth retreated to gather the ball but a tricky bounce allowed Watson to tackle him over the try line. From the five-metre scrum, Banahan took a crash ball into the heart of the Sarries defence, committing both Barritt and Marcelo Bosch, and with space created out wide, Ford passed out to Joseph who found Watson, and the full-back straightened to dive over for Bath’s first try. Ford’s conversion reduced the deficit further, but he was guilty of not giving Bath the lead shortly before half-time after snatching at a penalty effort on the 22m line, and it would prove costly.
As the clock hit 40 minutes, Saracens had one last attack in them. Again, it was the Goode-Maitland link on the left that exposed the Bath defence, and when Ford failed to gather Maitland’s fly-hack from a Goode chip, the Scotland wing showed his clinical finishing by dotting the ball down before hitting the dead-ball line. Farrell missed the extras but Saracens had a bit of breathing space with a 17-10 half-time lead.
Saracens continued to try and stamp their authority on the match after the break, with Farrell adding an early penalty following a collapsed maul, but the end product was missing as Ashton saw to half chances go begging, while Bath’s dogged defence saw them repeatedly turn the ball over or win pressure-relieving penalties inside their own 22.
Yet it would prove to be a devastating four-minute spell that would end Bath’s hopes of getting anything out of the contest. The reigning Premiership champions were enjoying success with a dominant lineout, and having not put any points on the board for more than 15 minutes, they turned to the catch and drive. It proved a wise decision, as replacement hooker Schalk Brits burrowed his way over the line to score the bonus-point clinching try, with Farrell converting.
Less than four minutes later, Saracens were celebrating again. A break through the gut of the Bath defence by Wigglesworth saw the half-back offload to a charging Billy Vunipola, and once Michael Rhodes carried the ball to within a metre of the line, the quick ball allowed Goode to send Barritt over in the right corner.
Ashton would eventually get in on the act, the France-bound wing making a mockery of Danny Care’s try-celebration antics for England during the Six Nations by soaring over the line with his trademark Ash-Splash after being put in by Farrell – who added the touchline conversion – before Billy Vunipola scored a seventh try with the Bath defence at sixes and sevens, as he barged Elliot Stooke out of his way to score next to the posts.
And the punishment didn’t end there Bath’s implosion continued. Watson failed to take a high ball, and when Taylor intercepted the ball with Bath in retreat, Ashton provided the supporting run to dive over for his second try of the match.
With seven tries in the bag, Saracens knew a third consecutive victory was guaranteed, though the only blemish saw the skipper Barritt limp off immediately after his try which will certainly cause concern ahead of next weekend’s European Champions Cup clash against Glasgow Warriors here.
Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Bosch (Taylor, 46), Barritt (Lozowski, 63), Maitland; Farrell, Wigglesworth; Vunipola (Lamositele, 68), George (Brits, 46), Figallo (Kock, 59); Itoje, Hamilton (Conlan, 63); Rhodes, Wray, Vunipola. Replacements not used: Brown
Bath: Watson; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Tapuai, Banahan; Ford (Hastings, 76), Fotuali’I (Cook, 72); Catt (Obano, 68), Batty (Brooker, 68), Lahiff (Palma-Newport, 63); Ewels, Charteris (Stooke, 63); Ellis, Louw (Grant, 66), Faletau. Replacements not used: Homer.