Rugby: Saracens' power and pace proves decisive

Blackheath 31 Saracens 59
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The Independent Online
Saracens entered what might be termed the red light district of South-east London last night and emerged with a handsome victory in the fourth round of the Tetley's Bitter Cup. Blackheath, playing within sight of Peter Mandelson's baby, the Millennium Dome, marked out by a series of red lights, went out bravely and proudly, but were never able to match Saracens' power in the tight and pace and flair out wide.

There were some magic moments for the enthusiastic home crowd and the stand-off, Chris Braithwaite, scored 16 points and showed some exquisite touches, but Saracens were just too sharp, running in nine tries to their opponents' three and earning themselves a home tie against the cup holders, Leicester, later this month.

There was never much doubt about the way things would go, even though Blackheath twice stung Saracens to sneak into the lead. Saracens were without seven internationals for various reasons, although Tony Diprose and Kyran Bracken appeared on the bench following their exertions for England at Bisham yesterday.

But the Allied Dunbar Premiership side were still able to field a further seven internationals against their Second Division opponents, including France's world record caps holder, Philippe Sella, with 111.

The return of Sella to the back line added instant verve and swerve, his last appearance was 11 weeks ago against Gloucester, in which match he pulled a hamstring. Last night he was pulling other strings, directing operations out wide and to devastating effect.

He scored one of their five first-half tries as they found it all too easy to steal through. But that was perhaps a problem, because they then allowed Blackheath to grab a cheeky try late in the first half, when the left wing, Matt Griffiths, ducked under the tackles of Francois Pienaar and Ryan Constable. Braithwaite, who had landed the first of his penalties and a drop goal to earn the home side that early lead, added the conversion.

Blackheath picked up where they had left off after the interval and after 52 seconds Mark Percival lanced through the Saracens line from close range and Braithwaite's boot added further respectability. But Saracens hit back shortly after with tries by Pienaar and Matt Singer, both of which Michael Lynagh converted.

Blackheath never gave up but neither did Saracens. A 66th-minute try by the home hooker Colin Ridgway merely prodded the visitors back up field where the flanker Alex Bennett touched down for his first try for Saracens and Andy Lee knocked over the conversion. Constable added the final one six minutes later.

Blackheath: Tries D Griffiths, Percival, Ridgway; Conversions Braithwaite 2; Penalties Braithwaite 3; Drop goals Braithwaite. Saracens: Tries Chuter, Ravenscroft, Sella, Sturnham, penalty try, Pienaar, Singer, Bennett, Constable; Conversions Lynagh 6, Lee.

Blackheath: J Penaluna; W Stanley, J Gallagher (capt), C Pawson, M Griffiths; C Braithwaite, M Percival; S Pope, C Ridgway, P Graham, D Mayhew, S Shortland (J Christian, 55), R McCorduck, T Booth, C Wilkins.

Saracens: D Thompson (B Daniel, 51); M Singer, P Sella (K Bracken, 77), S Ravenscroft, R Constable; M Lynagh (A Lee, 60), M Olsen; B Reidy, G Chuter ( Botterman, 60), G Luck (A Olver, 44), D Grewcock, T Copsey, A Bennett, F Pienaar (capt), B Sturnham.

Referee: C Reeks (Somerset).