12162017

Saracens start defence with demolition of Northampton

Brad Barritt

Centre Brad Barritt scored one of the eight tries as Saracens began their bid to complete a hat-trick of Champions Cup victories

Saracens began their quest for a third successive Champions Cup with a typically ruthless demolition of Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.

Wing Liam Williams crossed twice, carving inside Ahsee Tuala to opening the scoring on 11 minutes.

Calum Clark bulldozed over from a driving maul to secure Sarries’ four-try bonus point just before the break.

Saints’ misery – compounded by a George North injury – was completed by four second-half tries from the visitors.

A trip to last season’s runners-up Clermont Auvergne next weekend gives little room for respite for Jim Mallinder’s side after their record home defeat in Europe while Saracens will entertain the team the French side defeated in their pool opener, Ospreys.

Twickenham revisited

George North<!–

North departed after trying and failing to play through what looked like a knee injury

Saracens sliced apart Northampton last month in the teams’ Premiership season opener, racking up a 38-point lead en route to a 55-24 win.

But on home turf and on the back of four wins from the following five games, Saints had hoped for better this time around.

Instead it was the same storyline, as Saracens mixed power with patience to totally dominate the home side.

After 22 minutes of relentless attack, Brad Barritt burrowed over at the back of a rolling maul to add to Williams’ opener and stretch the lead to 17-3.

In the small print below the scoreline, Saracens had registered nearly 85% in both the early possession and territory stats.

Williams finished a sharp move well to add a third before Clark wrapped up the extra points with the last play of the first half as Saracens headed to the dressing room 29-6 ahead.

Their stranglehold on the match never loosened with front-rowers Vincent Koch and Mako Vunipola as well as replacements Alex Lozowski and Ben Spencer scoring after the break as director of rugby Mark McCall emptied his bench early to spare first-choice legs.

A tale of two calls

Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell<!–

Owen Farrell, far right, escaped censure for his altercation with Teimana Harrison

With the notable exception of the industrious Courtney Lawes, Northampton lacked the aggression to derail Saracens.

Their best hope of a route back into match was possibly referee Pascal Gauzere when the Franklin’s Gardens crowd bayed for a yellow card after Owen Farrell pushed a forearm into the face of Teimana Harrison.

The pair had scuffled in the wake of the Saracens fly-half dump-tackling former England full-back Ben Foden in the first half.

But the French official decided there was nothing illegal in Farrell’s tackle and his jostling merited only a penalty.

Seven minutes later, Northampton’s David Ribbans was sent to the sin bin for cynically dragging down a maul that was rumbling towards the tryline.

In his absence, Saracens succeeded at their second attempt to drive over, with Clark scoring against his former club.

Koch trundled over two minutes after the restart and the points were already firmly secured.

Jones in attendance

Dylan Hartley and Jamie George<!–

While Hartley (right) has been England’s first choice, George (left) was preferred by British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland

With the teams so mis-matched it will have been difficult for watching England coach Eddie Jones to judge any of the individual battles he was analysing.

However Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley, who has been assured of retaining the England captaincy for the opening autumn international at least, might not relish the comparisons that could be drawn with Saracens counterpart Jamie George.

The Saints skipper was not at his abrasive best in the loose and saw a line-out throw stolen by George Kruis on a rare visit to the visiting 22m.

One useful contrast that could be drawn was between the Saracens side that lifted the trophy last season and this campaign’s edition.

While prolific wing Chris Ashton has departed for Toulon, he has been more than adequately replaced by Williams.

The Welshman, who joined this summer from Scarlets, was clinical when afforded space, but also gave Saracens aerial superiority with his excellent kick-chase game.

This efficiency in securing territorial dominance was just one part of an ominous statement to the rest of Europe from the holders.

Northampton: Ahsee Tuala; George North, Luther Burrell, Piers Francis, Ben Foden; Steve Myler, Cobus Reinach; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (c), Kieran Brookes, Michael Paterson, David Ribbans, Courtney Lawes, Jamie Gibson, Teimana Harrison

Replacements: Mikey Haywood, Francois van Wyk, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Api Ratuniyarawa, Tom Wood, Nic Groom, Harry Mallinder, Tom Collins

Saracens: Alex Goode; Liam Williams, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt (c), Chris Wyles; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Vincent Koch, Nick Isiekwe, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Calum Clark, Jackson Wray

Replacements: Schalk Brits, Richard Barrington, Juan Figallo, Dom Day, Schalk Burger, Ben Spencer, Alex Lozowski, Duncan Taylor

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