Planet Rugby

Saracens rumble over Connacht

18th January 2014 15:35

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Hat-trick: David Strettle

Saracens ensured they qualified for the knockout stages as a best runner-up with a comfortable eleven-try 64-6 win over Connacht.

Tries from Schalk Brits, Alex Goode, George Kruis, Chris Wyles, Jackson Wray, James Johnston, a brace for Chris Ashton and a hat-trick for David Strettle kept the scoreboard ticking over for the hosts throughout.

Charlie Hodgson produced a passing masterclass, if not a kicking one, in what ultimately proved to be a hammering for Connacht, who failed to match their now famous exploits winning in Toulouse on their trip to London.

Saracens were simply relentless even when ahead by over 40 points, refusing to let up as they pummelled a limping Connacht into the ground.

A total of ten tries was impressive but it was the five group points that mattered more to Saracens, taking them to 20 overall - enough to secure their qualification for the knockout stages.

After going behind early on, the try carousel began. Strong carries from Brad Barritt and Mako Vunipola left Saracens with numbers outside and a fine flat pass from Hodgson gave Ashton enough time and space to brush off two tacklers and dot down in the corner.

Hodgson's early attempts at goal proved wayward but his distribution was sublime, taking the game to Connacht's defence and unleashing Saracens' imposing set of runners.

Dan Parks gave Connacht the lead twice in the opening quarter through penalty kicks before Hodgson landed his first strike for a 8-5 lead after 25 minutes.

It was no surprise to see Hodgson in the thick of Saracens' second try, sliding through a gap and drawing the defence for David Strettle to ultimately slam the ball down, although his kicking remained off.

Nathan White's stamp on Brad Barritt saw him avoid the fate of Ospreys lock Ian Evans from the previous evening, the Connacht tighthead instead sent to the bin and in all truth fortunate not to be sent off.

His absence was felt when Saracens rolled an unstoppable maul towards the Connacht line for their third try, Schalk Brits eventually emerging from the bottom of the pile.

The bonus point was wrapped in the 42nd minute, Goode embarking on a long-range burst to make the space for Duncan Taylor to put away Strettle for his second try and Saracens' fourth.

Goode wasn't done with his free-flowing style, making the most of some awful Connacht defence to set off on a gliding diagonal run and weave his over for a long-range try. The level of opposition to his break was certainly sub par, but it was another nudge in the ribs for England head coach Stuart Lancaster.

Kruis got in on the act as Hodgson finally landed a kick, his second attempt of eight with a conversion, with Chris Wyles coming off the bench to latch onto an offload from another replacement in Jamie George to score himself.

Saracens could have easily taken their foot off the gas here and let the final quarter float away from them, but the tries from Wyles and then Jackson Wray showed ruthless intent.

Strettle's chip and chase sealed his hat-trick six minutes from time to somewhat ease the blow of missing out on the England squads this week, with Ashton adding a second. More importantly for Saracens, their progress had been secured.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Ashton 2, Strettle 3, Brits, Goode, Kruis, Wyles, Wray, Johnston
Cons: Hodgson 4
Pen: Hodgson

For Connacht:
Pens: Parks 2
Yellow Card: White

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Billy Vunipola, 5 George Kruis, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Chris Wyles

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Craig Clarke (c), 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Darragh Leader, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran

Date: Saturday, January 18
Kick-off: 13:35 GMT
Venue: Allianz Park
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Greg Morgan (Wales)
Television match official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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