Ealing Trailfinders 0 Saracens 60
When it was over, the Saracens players acknowledged the celebrations of their small pocket of supporters behind the posts in a manner that suggested their job was already done. Little wonder.
This Greene King IPA Championship final may only be at the half-way stage but the overwhelming margin by Mark McCall’s side has eliminated any jeopardy.
After almost 18 months of enduring the humiliating fall-out from their salary cap breaches, Saracens can now start making preparations for life in the Gallagher Premiership again next season.
The temperature may have touched 30 degrees in west London, but despite the draining conditions, Saracens saved their best performance of their Championship campaign when it mattered most.
And in running in eight tries in the glorious sunshine at the Trailfinders Sports Ground, any controversy about Ealing’s appeal against the minimum standards criteria ruling that would have denied Ben Ward’s side a place in the Premiership on a technical was brought to a premature end. Next Sunday's return leg at the StoneX Stadium will be no more than a formality.
You had to feel for Ealing. In any other year Ward’s side, who finished top of the league, would have made a much more compelling effort to secure their place in the top flight. But the relegation of the former English and European champions because of their salary cap breaches last season ensured this year’s final was a miss-match.
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McCall was able to field a side containing 12 internationals including five members of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad, and all of them fronted up, with an intensity and relentless approach we have seen before at the very top
Owen Farrell kicked 18 points and demonstrated a rarely seen running game that time and again opened up the Ealing defence, while he had eager runners at the edges in Alex Lewington, Sean Maitland and Alex Goode.
Yet it was up front where Saracens’ domination proved decisive. As the first 27 Lions players assembled in Jersey on Sunday, Gatland will have taken comfort from the performance of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Maro Itoje while Billy Vunipola showed glimpses of his old self to keep him in the frame for a standby place for South Africa.
“I thought all the players going on tour were fantastic today, physically good, right at it. Mako was superb, Jamie, Billy looked like a player who should be going today,” beamed McCall.
“I thought everybody was right at it today. Owen was amazing. I thought his game was exceptional. His leadership... you could see the way he led in the changing room before the game and at half-time. He's been like that all week. He lives for these important matches and significant games. I thought he was magnificent.
“We were right at right from the beginning and although it was only 10-0 after 17 or 18 minutes, we were putting them under pressure, denting them, and eventually that always tells.
“What's most pleasing is how we kept at it all the way through. When we went 30 or 40 points up, we felt like everything mattered, like every play mattered. In that heat to score like we did, it just says a lot about our playing group.
“I don't think we've ever played on a hotter day. To have the energy and desire to not concede and score more tries was excellent.
“We've got to be Covid free next week, god knows what would happen if we're not. Hopefully the scoreline today would dictate that. But we've wanted and waited for this opportunity for many months and we were determined to take the opportunity and dictate from the get-go.”
The relentless mindset was evident from the start from Saracens, and although Ealing had their moments, the game had been taken away from them by half-time after tries by Itoje and George and Aled Davies.
Billy Vunipola’s power game began more evident as the Ealing defence tired and he crossed twice in the second half from close range, while Saracens were also awarded a penalty try after a line-out maul was collapsed while Nick Tompkins finished off a fine flourish by Farrell before Sean Maitland went over in the final minute.
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Ealing Trailfinders: D Johnston; D Hammond, M Bodilly, M Gordon, J Cordy-Redden (L Daniels 43); C Willis, C Hampson (J Burns 67); W Davis (J Gibbons 40), S Malton, K Whyte (L Thiede 36), B De Wee, J Cannon (S Linsell 51), K Murphy, S Uzokwe (G Thompson 40), R Smid.
Saracens: A Goode (R Segun )77; A Lewington, E Daly (D Taylor 65), N Tompkins, S Maitland; O Farrell, (R Segun 77) A Davies; M Vunipola (R Adams-Hale 57), J George (T Woolstencroft 61), V Koch (A Clarey 61), M Itoje, T Swinson (C Hunter-Hill 68), M Rhodes (S Reffell 51), J Wray, B Vunipola.
Tries: M Itoje, A Davies, J George, B Vunipola 2, Penalty, N Tompkins, S Maitland.
Cons: Farrell (6).
Pens: Farrell (2).
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).