Challenge Cup: Saracens run out comfortable winners over London Irish

Date published: January 23 2022 - Planet Rugby

Saracens picked up their first victory of this season’s Challenge Cup after they recovered from an early setback to beat London Irish 45-24 at StoneX Stadium.

Tries from Sean Maitland, Alex Lewington (two), Elliot Daly, Vincent Koch, Harvey Beaton and Eroni Mawi saw them ease clear after the Exiles’ early score.

James Stokes, Cillian Redmond and Juan Martin Gonzalez went over for London Irish and despite this defeat, the visitors remain at the summit of Pool C.

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England forwards Maro Itoje and Jamie George came through unscathed from a game that had been earmarked as Owen Farrell’s comeback after two months out. However, the England skipper suffered a new injury to the other ankle in training last week and was again not of action.

Itoje and George, who stepped off the bench in the second half, join up with Eddie Jones’ squad at their Brighton training camp on Monday with solid performances in the bank.

Billy and Mako Vunipola and Daly have been overlooked by Jones as part of his team-rebuilding project and the trio were influential as the Exiles were swept aside.

The Vunipola brothers were heavily involved as Saracens set up early camp on the Irish line, using a series of line-out drive to apply pressure, but when they moved the ball wide full-back Stokes was able to pick up a loose pass.

Inside his own 22 and with Daly in hot pursuit, the visiting full-back had the gas to win the foot race with clear daylight between him and his opposite number at Saracens.

A quick exchange of tries between Maitland and Cillian Redmond followed before the home side surged into the lead when a side-stepping break from Itoje enabled Lewington to go over in the corner.

Saracens were in full stride now as Lewington added a brilliant second that was the result or precise attacking play started by Andy Christie’s midfield break before Maitland and Daly combined for the versatile England back to touch down.

A comprehensive 24-14 lead had now opened up but all season Irish have shown an ability to play their way back into games and early in the second half they crossed through Gonzalez.

But in the 54th minute man of the match Koch forced his way over from close range and, when replacement prop Beaton crossed with five minutes to go, the door had been slammed shut on the group leaders, with Mawi adding further gloss late on.