Rugby Union / Courage Championship: Saracens have that sinking feeling

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Saracens . . . . . . . . . . . .9

Wasps . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

THERE was no escaping the feeling at Southgate that this was the parting of the ways, Saracens were left looking out over the precipice after being seen off by a late try from Chris Oti as Wasps maintained their hold on the First Division leadership. Yes, with four to go down and only four to play, Sarries, second from bottom, really are teetering.

Yet Brian Davies, the Saracens captain and scrum-half, is remaining calm in the crisis. 'I guess things don't appear too bright,' he said, after his club's seventh reversal in eight outings. 'But all is not lost.'

Which leaves Saracens seeking success against West Hartlepool, London Scottish, London Irish and, wait for it, Bath. 'Basically,' Davies said, 'if we win three of those matches then we have to rely on other results to go our way. That's not a good situation to be in so we've got to aim to win all four.' A tall order for a side short on luck.

On Saturday, they gave it everything and yet still ended up losers. Last season they beat Wasps 12-6 at Sudbury but it was Floyd Steadman, Davies's predecessor in both roles at Saracens, who last scored a try against their north London rivals and that was in April 1990, Wasps winning the match and the league.

Here in the mud, Wasps could have come unstuck in a forward slog, Dean Ryan and Francis Emeruwa wresting the ball-winning initiative for Wasps but Saracens refused to lie down. Indeed, three penalties in six attempts by Ben Rudling, to two from seven by Alan Buzza, saw Saracens ahead with 15 minutes to go.

It was then that Wasps roused themselves, Graham Childs featuring in a move that swept right and left before Fran Clough put Oti away on a 30-yard gallop. Perversely, Buzza converted from the touchline but Wasps were happy when Rudling's final pot went wide and Steve Reed just failed to make it across their line in the 36th minute.

'As you can see,' Davies said, 'a side battling for survival is a tough beast to tame and it's going to be tough from now on because some of the sides we have to play are in the same position as us. We were so nearly there against Wasps, but if nothing else I believe we can win the cup game against them on their ground at the end of the month.'

And what of Bath, whose 60- point thrashing of bottom-placed Rugby should have set the alarm bells ringing at Southgate?

'If the league is all sewn up by the time they visit us then things will be in our favour,' the unflappable Davies said. 'But if they've got to win to take the title and we've got to win to stay up it should be interesting.'

Saracens: Penalties Rudling 3. Wasps: Try Oti; Conversion: Buzza; Penalties: Buzza 2.

Saracens: A Tunningley; D O'Leary, J Buckton, D Dooley, S Reed; B Rudling, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, L Adamson, C Tarbuck, B Crawley, J Cassell.

Wasps: A Buzza; L Scrace, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; A Thompson, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (capt), M White, M Greenwood, F Emeruwa.

Referee: D Sainsbury (Sussex).