Saracens Squash Wasps Underfoot
After returning from the mid-season break at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier and consolidating their lead at the summit of the Premiership, Saracens are now setting their sights on the next peak – Europe.The challenge of Ulster in a Heineken Cup quarter-final on Saturday will no doubt be steeper than that posed by Wasps who, after going 13-0 up in as many minutes, fell away badly.
At the same stage last season, Saracens had to reach for the oxygen tanks after Clermont Auvergne's brutal demonstration of combined power and poise left a mark on the club's psyche.
Alex Goode, the England full-back, played in that 22-3 defeat and is one of the few survivors from the playing group that reached the semi-finals in 2008. Victory at Twickenham, he maintains, will be required to demonstrate that they belong among the European elite. "Last season Clermont showed us up and were fantastic," he said. "Their power game was something we could not match on the day. They were a bit more streetwise than us. Europe is a different competition and little errors can change the game. We learnt a lot from that and we have put a lot of those lessons in place.
"The ambition for the club is not just to be a force in England but a force in Europe. We want to be in semi-finals and finals and becoming champions, but it is about being at a consistently high level each year.
"Ulster will come to Twickenham and play well. If you have got good players then they will turn up in big games. They have got internationals across the park but we should not fear them."
Goode set up both of Saracens' tries. The first was pure opportunism when Wasps turned their backs on a penalty, allowing Goode to take a tap-and-go and put Chris Wyles, the wing, over in the corner. For the second, the 24-year-old demonstrated his footballing skills with a grubber kick perfectly weighted for Saracens' other wing, Chris Ashton, to win a footrace and put them into the lead for the first time on 66 minutes. It was an advantage that they would not relinquish, with Owen Farrell adding two penalties to deny Wasps the consolation of a bonus point.
After a fourth consecutive league defeat, Wasps' season may be defined by their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leinster on Friday.
The home team had been in command after two long-range penalties from Elliot Daly and an intercept try from Christian Wade, the wing.
Among the Saracens reinforcements was Jacques Burger, the Namibia captain, who was returning to first-team action after 14 months out with a knee injury. "It felt like my first game for Saracens," Burger said. "I am nowhere close to where I want to be but I am stoked just to be out there and playing again. There were lots of times that I thought I wouldn't come back. You have ups and downs but by no means is the battle over."
Wasps Daly; Wade, Masi (Southwell, 75), Bell, Varndell; Stephen Jones (Robinson, 55), Simpson; Taulafo, Lindsay (Thomas, 52), Swainston (Taylor, 61), Launchbury (Palmer 5-8), Wentzel (Palmer, 55), Johnson, Sam Jones (Poff, 64), B Vunipola (Payne, 73).
Try Wade. Con Jones. Pens Daly 2. Sin-bin 69.
Saracens Goode; Ashton, Tomkins (D Taylor, 53), Farrell, Wyles; Hodgson, De Kock (Wigglesworth, 52); M Vunipola (Gill, 66), Smit (George, 52), Du Plessis (Nieto, 61), Borthwick, Botha (Kruis, 64), Wray (Burger, 61), Fraser, Joubert.
Tries Wyles, Ashton. Pens Farrell 4. Sin-bin Botha 39,
Referee M Fox. Attendance 8,078.