Weakened team shown no mercy by Saracens
Records tumbled in the sunshine yesterday, as Saracens extended their perfect start to the season with a fifth successive maximum-point haul and in the process Owen Farrell secured his place as the club’s highest points scorer in the Premiership.
And yet the eight-try victory for Mark McCall’s side, which included a hat-trick of tries for Wales and Lions wing Liam Williams and an imperious showing at full-back by Alex Goode, was largely devalued by Bath’s bewildering decision to make 13 changes for such a showpiece fixture.
The first-versus-fourth-place conFriday test never came close to such a heavy- weight billing even if some loose play, particularly in the first half by Saracens allowed Bath to score tries by Tom Homer (2) and Chris Cook to give the scoreboard a slightly more flattering look than they deserved.
Saracens had been more disrupted by England’s training camp in Bristol, with nine players only returning to the club on Wednesday to just two for Bath, but McCall instead choose to field what must be close to his strongest line-up, and it proved an irresistible force to the second-string visitors.
Goode, Jamie George and Nick Tompkins also crossed for tries, while Farrell’s five conversions took him past the previous record Premiership points total of 1,192 held by Glen Jackson as Saracens became the first club to take 25 points from their first five fixtures.
Todd Blackadder, Bath’s director of rugby who was handed a year extension to his contract on Friday as part of a new coaching succession plan, defended his selection with the remarkable admission that his target from this fixture was limited to “chasing a bonus point”.
Blackadder may have made valid points about player welfare and the benefits of rotations, but they are unlikely to have cut much ice with the supporters who made the long journey from Bath.
“We came here to get a point,” said Blackadder. “We’ve got Exeter next and we’ve got a massive month coming up.
“I stand by the decision, absolutely stand by it. We’re doing the best thing for our team and our players. I think it’s about getting the best out of everyone so today was opportunities for the guys that played today and also too on the back of that we’re resting guys, we’re freshening them up.
“We’re trying to break the habit of breaking people all the time as in the past we’ve gone into a window of massive games with a lot of injuries.”
The matter was of little interest to McCall, who hailed his side’s attacking intent but was less pleased with their defensive intensity.
The Ulsterman will also anxiously await a medical report on captain Brad Barritt, who received a deep cut to his cheekbone in the first half and had to go to hospital last night amid concerns it he may have sustained a fracture.
Goode meanwhile revelled in the spaces afforded by Saracens’ dominance up front, where Maro Itoje created havoc, using his speed and footwork to carry the ball for a remarkable total of 207 metres in a performance that rekindled his long-standing claim for a place in the England squad.
“He still wants to play for England, that’s the one thing you need to know, and he works incredibly hard for it,” said McCall of Goode’s performance.
“He’s worked hard to be quicker, to get his body in better shape and you could see that today.
“It wasn’t just his footwork, he looked quick today and that’s as good a performance as he’s put in for us. But he has put in 100s of those in fairness. It was an incredible performance.”
Two tries in quick succession by George and Sean Maitland, both from setpieces, had given Saracens early control of the contest but their profligacy had allowed Bath to go into the interval just six points adrift.
Bath scrum-half Chris Cook was able to pick off a pass from his opposite number Richard Wigglesworth from a line-out and run in from 55 metres for a try and when Jackson Wray lost possession in the midfield, some neat handling to the left touchline released Darren Atkins, who put Tom Homer away superbly for a second try for Bath just before half-time.
Yet by then Saracens already had secured their fourth try and bonus point, with a relentless spell of pressure wear- ing down the Bath defence to allow the space for Tompkins, on for Barritt, to step inside for a fine try.
Within a minute of the start of the second half, Saracens had scored their fifth try, with Williams running in unopposed after Titi Lamositele had impressively powered his way up the left-hand touchline.
A burst of acceleration by Goode created the opportunity for Williams to score his second hat-trick of the season, with the full- back flicking the ball behind him for the Welshman to finish.
Homer showed an impressive turn of pace to see off five chasers as he raced to the try-line from deep inside his 22 after picking off a Farrell pass.
But appropriately, it finished as it had started, with Saracens using their set-piece to complete the scoring, with hooker Chris Tolofua finishing off a driving maul from a line-out.
Saracens march on and in style, with questions already being asked about who can stop their challenge for a second successive title.
First blood: Saracens’ Liam Williams scores their opening try against Bath yesterday