Vunipola brothers shine as Saracens remain unbeaten
Saracens produced a clinical and efficient performance as they scored four tries to continue their unbeaten run in Europe.
With both Gloucester’s and Newcastle’s Champions Cup hopes extinguished and Exeter facing a trip to Munster’s Thomond Park in a winner-takes-all clash on Saturday, the north Londoners remain England’s standard bearers in the Champions Cup.
The bonus-point victory against Lyon, who are still without a win in Europe, guarantees Saracens a quarter-final place, and success against Glasgow at Allianz Park on Saturday would mean they qualify as top seeds.
Mark Mccall, Saracens’ director of rugby, was particularly happy having collected a full set of away wins. “We’re really pleased, it’s our third away win in the competition and away wins in this competition are priceless,” he said. “To come to Lyon and get a bonus point is massive for us and sets us up for next weekend with a huge game against Glasgow. We’re in a good position, in the quarter-finals, and we want a home tie now.”
There was the added bonus for Eddie Jones that Saracens’ England contingent came through unscathed, with Billy Vunipola impressing in his second appearance back after 12 weeks out recovering from a broken arm.
While there were a few fleeting nervy moments in the first half when Owen Farrell looked to be rubbing his hip and stepped out of the game momentarily, allowing Alex Goode to take a kick from hand, the England co-captain said after the game that he was in good shape. Saracens’ only injury concern is Scotland wing Sean Maitland, who went off early in the first half with a tight hamstring and looks unlikely to face Glasgow.
Farrell’s on-field presence and leadership was crucial in allowing outside centre Nick Tompkins to shine. The 23-year-old contributed a brace of tries, scoring the visitors’ first after 20 minutes as he raced under the posts off the back of a sweet pass from Mako Vunipola. The loosehead prop was in inspired form as man of the match and that was the first of two assists as he also set up flanker Jackson Wray for Saracens’ second try.
Farrell was not in any way surprised by the prop’s ability as a try maker. “Mako does that in training all the time,” he said. “He picks his head up and plays what is in front of him, it’s no surprise. He’s always like that and backs it up with a bit of physicality as well.”
Mccall praised the Vunipola brothers for their contributions and seemed relieved at Billy’s progress, considering the player had opened up regarding his anxieties surrounding his torrid run of injuries.
“Mako is pretty good at that [try assists] and his overall game was really strong today. Billy was on a different level to where he was last week as well,” he said. “It was a really good team performance, as well. We dominated field position and made them do things they didn’t want to do.”
In the second half, Tompkins sealed his brace when he scored off the back of a driving maul.
Replacement scrum-half Ben Spencer secured the bonus point before the hour.
One sour note for Saracens was the yellow card for Maro Itoje in his first club appearance since chipping his knee cap while on England duty. The lock was sent to the sinbin by referee Andrew Brace for slapping the ball out of Lyon replacement Charl Mcleod’s hand.
It was Lyon who had the final say in the game with a try by wing Alexis Palisson.
Double top: Outside centre Nick Tompkins races away for one of his two tries