Rugby Union: Saracens' speed leaves Exiles breathless

London Irish 10 Saracens 25
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London Irish enter the New Year under the old threat of relegation after predictably going down to Saracens at Sunbury last night. Saracens, who lost their unbeaten record to Leicester on Boxing day, had too much wit and pace for the Irish who remain poles apart in the Premiership from their opponents.

Without hitting too many high notes, Saracens survived an awkward first half, after which they trailed 10-6, before cutting loose in the second. Saracens, playing into the wind in the first half, made an encouraging start. Early pressure resulted in penalties for Michael Lynagh, both from comfortable positions and the Australian duly obliged.

The Exiles - meaning London Irish rather than Saracens' overseas contingent - then utilised a traditional strength, a form of organised chaos. They harried and tackled everything that moved, and sometimes things that did not, and Saracens were not allowed to settle.

The Irish, with a rare penalty award, reduced the deficit when Niall Woods was on target with a long-range kick. On the stroke of half-time David Humphreys was just wide with a penalty attempt from a yard inside his own half.

However, the Irish enjoyed a period of sustained pressure which did not look like going anywhere until Humphreys put in a clever grubber kick. Although the stand-off was late tackled, Woods hacked on, Lynagh failed to control the ball and Conor O'Shea dived on it for the try. It was a rare moment of celebration for the Irish in a hard season during which they have won only one league match.

They have drawn up a list of objectives, the first of which was to maintain Premiership status. Another is to command respect from the other clubs. They have that, but it is not enough to win matches.

With the elements in their favour in the second half, Saracens quickly resumed normal service. Ryan Constable beat his opposite number, Nick Burrows, to score Saracens first try in the 45th minute and they went further ahead a few minutes later when the Irish defence was caught napping in front of their own posts. Having been awarded a penalty, Saracens declined to kick, instead taking a quick tap and Lynagh was allowed to touch down through a bemused Irish defence.

Brendon Daniel, another of the Saracens' overseas imports, rounded off the scoring when a desperate attempt at an Irish clearance resulted in the ball being kicked directly into the hands of the New Zealand wing and he responded by jinking through the middle of the Irish defence to score near the posts.

London Irish: Try O'Shea; Conversion Woods; Penalty Woods. Saracens: Tries Constable, Lynagh, Daniel; Conversions Lynagh 2; Penalties Lynagh 2.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys, P Richards (N Hogan, 60); L Mooney, R Kellam (T Redmond, 69), G Halpin (A Kershaw, 65), G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, K O'Connell, K Spicer, C Bird.

Saracens: G Johnson (M Singer, h-t); B Daniel, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace, T Copsey, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt), A Bennett.

Referee: N Cousins (London).

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