Ashton debut double gets Sarries off to flying start

Saracens 40 London Irish 3

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The Independent Online

Brian Smith, the London Irish director of rugby, acknowledged last week that he is no great fan of the perceived Saracens style of play. His enthusiasm may be even less after the pasting his new-look side received yesterday in the second leg of the London double-header which has become a traditional part of the Aviva Premiership's opening weekend.

Saracens can live with the criticism they habitually receive. They have made a conscious decision to win on their own terms and their greatest motivation now is to reclaim the Premiership title they won in 2011; to have made such an emphatic start, on an opening-day occasion which has seldom been kind to them, will suit just fine.

That Chris Ashton, the England wing making his first competitive start since joining from Northampton, should have scored two of their four tries was a bonus. With Saracens, it is all about the whole rather than the individual: "The reason I signed Chris is because he brings something different," Mark McCall, the director of rugby, said. "He's never far away from where the action is, and we're hoping he can take our attacking game forward."

In fairness, too, Saracens have demonstrated in the past that they can play more than the kick-and-chase game with which Smith, among others, labels them. Here, missing a clutch of injured internationals such as Owen Farrell, David Strettle and Matt Stevens, they played a game of width in the first half which lacked accuracy and, therefore, contrasted unfavourably with the brilliance which illuminated the earlier game between Harlequins and Wasps.

The loudest cheer from a 63,000-strong crowd – an improvement of 12,000 on last year's double-header – before the interval was for Charlie Hodgson becoming the first player to pass 2,000 Premiership points. The vast majority of those points came during his 12 years with Sale Sharks but he has become both a significant player and a mentor since joining Saracens last year.

Had he been matched by Tom Homer, last season's leading Premiership scorer, then the Irish would have been in greater contention. But Homer, from considerable distance, found the target only once from four attempts while Hodgson and Alex Goode gave Saracens the cushion they needed for their second-half spree.

Hodgson would have taken all four penalty kicks but for the fact that he was still groggy after a heavy and dangerous tackle from Ofisa Treviranus. That led to the first of two referrals to the video official, Trevor Fisher, over foul play which earned Treviranus and, four minutes later, Ashton a yellow card and will lead to players treading on egg shells until the new regulations bed in. Ashton was clearly unhappy that his tackle on Steve Shingler earned a place in the sin bin but, two minutes after the break, he felt far better having scored his first try for his new club.

Joel Tomkins, making his first Premiership start since joining from Wigan Warriors, contributed to the try, only one of several helpful interventions. Ashton's presence of mind led to Bradley Barritt's score and, despite another yellow card for Kelly Brown, Saracens were able to keep the Irish at arm's length before securing the bonus point in the last eight minutes.

Neil de Kock and Hodgson took a tapped penalty to create the third try, for Ashton, and the fourth fell to Nils Mordt, who made a superb pick-up at speed after Brown had made an inside pass.

Saracens A Goode (N Mordt, 73); C Ashton (sin bin 19-29), J Tomkins (J Short, 63), B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 51); M Vunipola (R Gill, 63), S Brits (J George, 64), P du Plessis (C Nieto, 55), S Borthwick (captain), M Botha (E Sherriff, 70), K Brown (sin bin 60-70), E Joubert, W Fraser (J Wray, 57).

London Irish T Homer; T Ojo, J Joseph, S Tagicakibau, M Yarde; S Shingler, T O'Leary (J Moates, 66); M Lahiff (H Aulika, 53; Halavatau, 78), S Lawson (B Blaney, 73), L Halavatau (C Griffiths, 57), G Skivington (K Low, 63), B Evans (captain), J Gibson (A Gray, 57), J Fisher (D Danaher, 53), O Treviranus (sin bin 15-26).

Referee W Barnes (London).


Tries Ashton 2, Barritt, Mordt

Cons Hodgson 4

Pens Hodgson 3, Goode

London Irish

Pen Homer

Attendance 63,102