Rugby Union: Saracens' record men black out Bath

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The Independent Online
Chris Hewett

Saracens 50

Bath 23

A new order is emerging in English rugby and it has nothing to do with Cliff Brittle's idiosyncratic attempt to hijack recent history and reinvent the game in his own image. Unless yesterday's extraordinary events at Vicarage Road were no more than a frighteningly realistic hallucination, the future is shrouded in a very particular shade of black. Saracen black.

Having seen Wasps, their north London rivals and a traditional power in the land, humiliated by 50 points the day before, Sarries inflicted something very similar on Bath. Yes, that's the Bath, the mean-minded, narrow-eyed and ultra-competitive perennial champions from the West Country, which, as a region, has not suffered such a comprehensive shafting since the Duke of Monmouth went seriously pear-shaped 300 years ago.

Led passionately from the front by their coach, Francois Pienaar, and their captain, Tony Diprose, Sarries ran in half a dozen tries. Never in the decade-long history of league competition had Bath allowed their line to be breached with such regularity but then, it was a landmark sort of day.

The Londoners were roared on by the biggest crowd in their history - the best part of 11,000 people pitched up in Watford to revel or suffer in the slaughter - and they duly inflicted on their opponents a record number of points and a record margin of victory.

"I'm surprised, very surprised, that we won by such a distance but that was no exercise in basketball rugby out there," said Pienaar, the 1995 World Cup-winning Springbok captain whose most remarkable achievement may well have been the successful transfer of his implacable competitive spirit from the sporting cathedrals of Newlands and Ellis Park to an anonymous football ground in the middle of Hertfordshire.

"I know that some people question the future of the professional club game in England but I hope we've sent out the right signals. There were big tackles, fierce rucking and adventure out wide for people to enjoy. Perhaps we'll keep some of those new supporters."

If Pienaar was prepared to wax lyrical, Andy Robinson, the equally competitive Bath coach, was virtually speechless. "The side who wanted it more won the game," he muttered as his glazed expression of disbelief began its inevitable transformation into pure, undiluted anger at his side's meek acceptance of defeat.

Alarmingly, his players proved incapable of reaching such depths of emotion once Sarries had spurted away from them in a thrilling second-quarter of hard, attacking rugby.

Gavin Johnson had already scored the first of his two tries when contrasting strikes from Richard Wallace, the outstanding Irish wing, settled the issue in the space of nine minutes. Diprose, superb in the Sarries' back row, set the first raid in motion by beating Dan Lyle to a high ball - he would repeat the feat time and again - and when Ryan Constable found Wallace steaming down the right touchline, the combined defensive efforts of Matt Perry, Jon Callard and Richard Butland came to nothing.

Wallace's second was an absolute diamond - appearing on the "wrong" wing, he purred away from Phil de Glanville and finished a 30-metre run in style at the posts. Steve Ravenscroft's straightforward overlap score a minute into the second half confirmed that a Bath comeback was not a negotiable option and with Diprose, Kyran Bracken and Michael Lynagh head and shoulders above the visiting decision-makers, it was no great shock when Brendon Daniel and Johnson rubbed it in with further tries.

Sarries now have 12 days' rest while Bath must haul themselves off the canvas for this Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final with Pau. It never rains, but it pours.

Saracens: Tries G Johnson 2, R Wallace 2, Ravenscroft, Daniel; Conversions Lynagh 4; Penalties Lynagh 4. Bath: Tries Regan, Butland; Conversions Callard 2; Penalties Callard 3.

Saracens: G Johnson; R Wallace, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; M Lynagh (A Lee, 73), K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace (A Olver, 14), P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, A Diprose (capt), R Hill (B Sturnham, 68).

Bath: J Callard; I Evans, M Tindall, P de Glanville, M Perry; R Butland, A Nicol (capt; R Pellow, 43); K Yates, A Long (M Regan, h-t), V Ubogu (D Hilton, 68), G Llanes (B Cusack, 68), N Redman, E Peters, D Lyle, N Thomas.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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