Borthwick puts boot in to leave lowly Leeds flat on their faces

Saracens 39 Leeds 0

Wall Street traders talk about the "dead cat bounce", a phrase meaning a small recovery in the price of a declining stock based on the notion that even a deceased feline will rise briefly if dropped from a great enough height. Not for the first time in recent years, Wall Street has it wrong. Leeds, the bottom side in the Aviva Premiership, played like dead cats at Vicarage Road yesterday and found themselves plummeting from a very considerable altitude as a consequence. Did they bounce? Did they hell.

The Yorkshiremen hit terra firma with a fearful smack after just 63 seconds, the Saracens centre Michael Tagicakibau completing the simplest of chargedown tries, and remained flat on their faces for the duration. The home team, keen as mustard in attack and even more motivated in defence, were pretty much done and dusted inside eight minutes when Brad Barritt doubled their advantage. Of all the clubs in the top flight, Leeds are least equipped to play catch-up – and Saracens were out of sight by the interval, which they reached 27 points to the good.

Neil Back, king of the castle at Headingley following the sacking of Andy Key on Thursday, tried to put a brave face on things, but the World Cup-winning flanker has never been much of a pretender. "I've had better weeks," he acknowledged. "We trained well, and our warm-up work before kick-off was crisp and sharp. It just proves there is no direct correlation between what happens before a game and what happens during it. But while the players are disappointed with that performance, which gave no indication of what we're about as a club, it's important to credit the opposition. Saracens turned in the best defensive display I've seen this season and it explains why they're second in the table."

Strange to relate in light of these events, Leeds have every chance of escaping the drop. Of the three northern clubs struggling to make sense of this professional club rugby lark, they have as much chance as any of finding a way through the briar patch and into the rose garden. Sale have better players in important positions but have no clear sense of direction while Newcastle are getting more things wrong, more often, than anyone in the league. Even on this evidence it is possible to see Back's team beating the Tynesiders in six days' time and giving them the unpleasant taste of life in the relegation position.

"At least we have our destiny in our own hands," said the head coach, who will split Key's Director Of Rugby duties with the chief executive Gary Hetherington. "The players are together and they are upbeat. This is the first time they've been 'nilled' all season, but they were trying to put themselves on the scoreboard right to the end. I couldn't fault the effort and commitment."

Of the many things he could fault, the Leeds kicking game was first amongst equals. In the opening minutes there were boot-driven cock-ups and calamities from any number of visiting players, from the full-back Leigh Hinton and the centre Scott Barrow to the outside-half Adrian Jarvis and the scrum-half Warren Fury. Given the one-paced, not to say pedestrian, nature of the Leeds back division they depend more than most teams on an accurate punting game. Yesterday, that punting game was about as accurate as an MP's expenses claim.

It was not as if Saracens needed a helping hand. Steve Borthwick, the deposed England captain, returned to the home pack after a four-week injury lay-off and immediately tightened things up with his customary expertise, shaping the line-out contest to his will, making tackles by the gross and hitting every ruck within a 25-metre radius. He even engaged in some old-fashioned how's-your-father, first with the hooker Steve Thompson and then, more seriously, with Thompson's replacement, Phil Nilsen. It was as if he still felt aggrieved at his shabby treatment by the red-rose management, who waited until he was injured before dropping him like a stone. If so, who could blame him?

There were equally striking contributions from Justin Melck, by some distance the least celebrated of Saracens' bank of back-row forwards but by no means the least effective, and Chris Wyles, the American back who rarely puts a foot wrong. Wyles' second-half try, the last of the five registered by his side, was the event of the afternoon – a cleverly calculated, brilliantly executed combination of ball-showing and side-stepping that left Kearnan Myall, Ceiron Thomas, Lee Blackett and Scott Mathie holding handfuls of thin air.

And then there was Alex Goode, plying his subtle trade from full-back. He may not be the quickest thing on two legs – this, in all probability, explains his continuing absence from the elite England squad – but pace is not everything, even in the increasingly one-dimensional world of rugby as it is played in these parts. No Premiership player has a greater understanding of angles, of timing, of the art of creating space: in these respects, Goode is more French than English. If the national team is to make the best of itself over the four-year stretch leading towards the home World Cup in 2015, it must find a means of accommodating him.

Saracens, then, are well placed for a second successive push towards the Premiership Grand Final. They are fiercely committed, they enjoy each other's company and they have a shared sense of purpose. What is more, Six Nations calls on their squad are at a minimum – not that their head coach, Mark McCall, sees this as any great advantage. "In case people haven't noticed, we've been struggling to field a side because of injuries," he said. "We haven't gone around crying about it. We've just managed it really well." A fair point, well made.

Scorers: Saracens: Tries: Tagicakibau, Barritt, Short, Wigglesworth, Wyles. Conversions: Goode 4. Penalties: Goode 2.

Saracens: A Goode; J Short, M Tagicakibau (R Penney, 60), B Barritt, C Wyles; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (N De Kock, 50); R Gill (J Saunders, 44), J George (S Brits, 50), C Nieto (M Stevens, 49), S Borthwick (capt), H Smith (H Vyvyan, 57), J Melck, A Saull (J Wray, 66), E Joubert.

Leeds: L Hinton (C Thomas, 53); L Blackett, H Fa'afili. S Barrow (L Burrell ,53), M Stephenson; A Jarvis, W Fury (S Mathie, 53); M MacDonald (G Hardy, 69), S Thompson (P Nilsen, 69), P Swainston (J Gomez, 53), D Browne, M Wentzel (capt, C James, 50), K Myall, H Fourie (J Rowan, 69), A To'oala.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
Missing: 'Mail' columnist Peter Hitchens
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power