Empty Bath

Weak­ened team shown no mercy by Sara­cens

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Gavin Mairs RUGBY NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Al­lianz Park

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

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