Saracens thrash Bath while Exiles and Gloucester draw

Date published: October 17 2021 - Planet Rugby

England star Maro Itoje made a try-scoring return to the Premiership as rampant Saracens humiliated rock-bottom Bath with a 71-17 victory at the Recreation Ground.

The British and Irish Lions lock had not played a Premiership game since Saracens drew with Bath 12 months ago in their final top-flight fixture before the club’s salary cap breaches meant relegation to the Championship.

After completing his rest period following the Lions’ South Africa tour, Itoje showed impressive form in front of England head coach Eddie Jones – although his afternoon ended early in the second half after he took a blow to his left shoulder.

His early exit appeared precautionary as Saracens consigned outclassed Bath to a fourth successive league defeat and worst Premiership start since 2001.

Jones is certain to want early updates on Itoje and Bath wing Anthony Watson, who went off with what appeared to be a knee issue.

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Saracens, though, made it three wins out of four, racking up a remarkable 45 points in the first half through hooker Jamie George’s try double, another two from wing Max Malins and one each by Itoje and flanker Ben Earl.

Substitute prop Eroni Mawi added a seventh Saracens try, Malins completed his hat-trick and Rotimi Segun and Dom Morris also scored, while skipper Owen Farrell booted eight conversions and a penalty for a 19-point haul and Alex Goode kicked a late conversion.

Full-back Tom de Glanville, back-row forward Tom Ellis and wing Will Muir claimed Bath consolation scores, and Danny Cipriani added one conversion, but it was a horrible afternoon for the West Country club.

George, Mako Vunipola and Billy Vunipola were among those left out of Jones’ recent England training squad but they all made powerful claims for a recall when he names his Autumn Nations Series group on Monday.

Cipriani returned to action for his home debut after successfully completing return-to-play protocols after suffering a head knock during Bath’s defeat against Sale last month, while there were also starts for Watson and hooker Tom Dunn.

Itoje’s appearance apart, Saracens rugby director Mark McCall made two other changes following victory over Newcastle last weekend, with Goode making a first start of the season and Wales centre Nick Tompkins featuring alongside Alex Lozowski in midfield.

Saracens made a bright start and after Farrell kicked them into a second-minute lead, they prised open Bath’s defence, initially through fine work by number eight Billy Vunipola, before Itoje stormed through a huge gap to score.

Farrell converted, underlining the size of Bath’s assignment, and matters deteriorated for them after 16 minutes when Saracens struck again.

The visitors had to absorb a spell of pressure but Bath were unable to make it count, and Saracens broke upfield before Goode sent a scoring pass to Malins, with Farrell’s conversion leaving Bath 17 points adrift.

Bath continued to have chances, yet they continued making mistakes and Saracens did not require a second invitation to strike again 12 minutes before half-time.

Bath will feel aggrieved that no action was taken against Saracens wing Sean Maitland after he challenged De Glanville in the air, but they were immediately under pressure from a driven close-range lineout and George touched down.

Farrell converted, as he did for Saracens’ bonus-point try after just 30 minutes when a woeful midfield pass by Cipriani was gathered by Malins, who sprinted 50 metres to score.

There was no let-up from Saracens, and further tries arrived before the break for Earl and George as Bath faced the third-biggest interval deficit in Premiership history 13 years after they led Saracens in a league game by exactly the same margin.

Bath at least scored first in the second half after Josh Bayliss charged down a Farrell kick, Sam Underhill almost crossed, and then quickly recycled ball allowed De Glanville a try that Cipriani converted.

Saracens soon resumed normal service, though, with further tries following for Mawi, Malins, Segan and Morris to complete an afternoon of total domination.

London Irish and Gloucester end all square

London Irish missed a golden opportunity to pick up their first victory of the season as they dominated Gloucester for most of the match but the visitors dug in to come away with an undeserved 25-25 draw.

Irish had not managed a win in their opening four matches but their first-half efforts should have ensured they were out of sight at the interval. As it was they were only eight points ahead and the visitors were able to stage a comeback.

Gloucester scored three tries in less than 15 minutes. Ben Morgan scored two of them and Louis Rees-Zammit the other, with Adam Hastings kicking two penalties and two conversions.

Agustin Creevy, Isaac Curtis-Harris and Matt Rogerson scored tries for Irish, with Paddy Jackson adding two conversions and two penalties.

Lewis Ludlow led out Gloucester on his 150th appearance for the club but the hosts had much the better of the opening period to deservedly take a 12th-minute lead.

Irish exerted huge pressure on the visitors’ line and eventually a stubborn defence cracked when Creevy forced his way over from close range.

The home side should have scored again shortly afterwards. Gloucester forwards Jack Singleton and Matias Alemanno were both receiving treatment when Rob Simmonds burst through the opposition ranks only for Jackson to carelessly throw forward the scoring pass to Ben Loader.

Singleton departed for an assessment before Irish bagged their second try when Curtis-Harris brushed aside a weak tackle from Val Rapava-Ruskin to score.

With their first excursion into the opposition 22 in the 23rd minute, Gloucester picked up their first points with a simple penalty from Hastings with the fly-half soon adding another.

Irish then resumed their dominance of a one-sided first half but they could not add to their tally so the visitors were extremely fortunate to be only 14-6 adrift at the interval.

There was early drama in the second half as Curtis Rona seized on a loose ball and set sail for the line. The centre was tip-tackled by Freddie Clarke but Mark Atkinson dived in to prevent a recycle. Atkinson was promptly sin-binned, with Jackson kicking the resulting penalty.

Gloucester’s woes continued when replacement prop Harry Elrington – the former Irish player – was forced to leave the field with an injury, with Rapava-Ruskin returning to replace him.

Irish lock Steve Mafi received a yellow card for dragging down a maul and Gloucester immediately capitalised when Morgan finished off a line-out drive before Jackson succeeded with a superb strike from inside his own half.

Atkinson returned from the bin in time to see his side score their second try – a replica of the first and again scored by Morgan.

Irish looked in trouble when Rees-Zammit picked off a pass from Irish scrum-half Nick Phipps to run 75 metres and score, but Irish drew level when Rogerson forced his way over after an elusive run from Ollie Hassell-Collins, with Jackson’s touchline conversion crucially sailing wide.