Alex Goode is not the quickest player on God’s rugby earth: if he was blessed with genuine pace, he would be a world-beater.
England’s second-string full-back is rarely found wanting in the top four inches, though, and brainpower makes up for any number of deficiencies. He was at the heart of Saracens’ comprehensive victory at the Recreation Ground last night – Bath’s first home defeat of the season – and if there has been a better example of positional versatility here in recent times, it does not spring easily to mind.
The Londoners lost their most creative spirit, the former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson, to illness shortly before kick-off, so Goode, something of an artist himself, made the move from No 15 to No 10. This was hardly the ideal scenario for Sarries: for one thing, they had to press-gang a centre, Duncan Taylor, into service on the wing; for another, they would have preferred a full-time specialist in the pivot role against a player in such rich form as the much talked-about George Ford.
As it was, Ford cracked first, spurning a highly kickable penalty opportunity from left field a mere five minutes into the contest. Thus encouraged, Saracens went after their hosts with a vengeance, Schalk Brits flicking a wondrous pass to Joel Tomkins down the short side – a move that would have worked to perfection had Ford not made amends for his wayward place-kick by bundling the centre into touch.
And so it continued: if Bath looked dangerous on occasion – it was an excellent broken-field run from the flanker Alafoti Fa’osiliva who paved the way for a successful Ford penalty towards the end of the first quarter – the visitors looked much more lethal. Goode levelled it up when Bath infringed at a line-out from the restart and his side then opened up some scoreboard space with a fine try on the half-hour, David Strettle cutting a damaging line in midfield, Tomkins contributing a clever pass out of contact and Chris Wyles, such a valuable player for Saracens, touching down.
That was not the end of it. A fumble from the midfielder Ollie Devoto allowed Goode a chance to weave one of his spells. His escape-route pass to Taylor was a thing of beauty, opening up the west countrymen at a stroke and giving Brad Barritt the chance to slide a diagonal kick towards Strettle, who duly scored. Goode hit the spot with both conversions and added a rather majestic drop goal with his side’s first attack of the second half.
Seventeen points in the pink, Saracens looked perfectly comfortable until Jacques Burger was packed off to the cooler for a heavy hit on Anthony Watson that was considered marginally high. Burger had already left Peter Stringer in a shallow grave – he was adjudged to have been on the wrong side of the law that time, too – and in his absence, Bath registered a penalty try from a series of scrums against a seven-man pack.
Wyles would also see yellow for a not terribly questionable hit on Semesa Rokoduguni at the last knockings, but as Goode had added a second penalty by then, who cared? Not Sarcacens, that was for sure.
Bath: N Abendanon; AWatson, O Devoto (G Henson 62), K Eastmond, M Banahan (S Rokoduguni 54); G Ford, P Stringer (M Young 40); P James (N Catt 59), R Batty, A Perenise (J P Orlandi 59), D Day (R Caldwell 75), D Attwood, A Fa’osiliva (G Mercer h-t), F Louw (capt), L Houston).
Saracens: C Wyles; D Strettle, J Tomkins (M Bosch 54), B Barritt (J Wilson 75), D Taylor; C Hodgson, N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 51); M Vunipola (R Barrington 68), S Brits, J Johnston (M Stevens 58), S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis, J Wray (K Brown 54), J Burger, E Joubert.
Referee: L Pearce (Devon).