David Strettle steams to hat-trick to earn Sarries home tie

Saracens 47 Worcester 17

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The Independent Online

David Strettle sunk Worcester with a 12-minute hat-trick as Saracens secured a home Premiership semi-final in emphatic style here yesterday. Charlie Hodgson added 17 points from three penalties and four conversions as the league leaders ran in six tries to one.

The game began with a respectfully observed minute's silence for Baroness Thatcher and ended with a raucous celebration as Saracens took another step towards a possible third Twickenham final in four years.

In between, the beauty and brutality of English rugby's meanest of machines was on show as Saracens switched from searing six and seven-man moves to launching props Matt Stevens and Rhys Gill rampaging into the heart of the Worcester defence.

Both styles were effective as the visitors were sucked in attempting to halt the stampeding forwards, then stretched by the pace and predatory instincts of Strettle, and Chris Ashton, his England colleague.

It was a big day for Gill, playing his 100th game and a huge one for Jacques Burger, making his first start in 16 months after six operations to repair a badly-worn right knee.

Danny Gray rewarded Worcester's bright start with an early penalty but by the 22nd minute, Strettle had scorched in for his treble. The first ended a six-man passing move with Ashton sending Strettle into the left-hand corner; the second was a solo-special as the wing stormed through the defence only to be hauled down a foot from the line by David Lemi before rolling over and planting the ball over the line. The third was sparked by Hodgson, moved wide by Joel Tomkins for Strettle to finish.

This spectacle was punctuated by two Hodgson penalties, and a furious rant by Mark McCall, Saracens' rugby director, at his opposite number, Richard Hill, following a late hit by Josh Matavesi that forced Neil de Kock into the concussion bin for five minutes. "We could have lost our scrum-half for the season with a broken jaw or fractured cheekbone," said McCall. "Luckily we didn't, but it looked deliberate to me. If that was a deliberate ploy, I'm not sure, but I ran down to make my feelings known."

Hill said: "It was a clumsy challenge, but not malicious. Josh is not that sort of lad and he has apologised to Neil."

To their credit, Worcester emerged from the early carnage to score a try on 28 minutes, made by Alex Grove, finished by Josh Drauniniu and converted by Gray. They even scored another on 48 minutes when Matt Kvesic was driven over from a penalty lineout, Gray again converting.

But Saracens replied in kind inside 10 minutes, driving a penalty lineout for Carlos Nieto to go over and secure the four-try bonus point. Hodgson added the extras.

When the former England fly-half kicked his third penalty after 69 minutes, Worcester's defence looked stretched from sheer exertion.

Strettle escaped again soon after and this time Ashton profited, scoring his third try in as many games followed by another Hodgson conversion. The rout was completed in the dying embers as Jackson Wray barrelled over and Hodgson completed the afternoon.

Saracens: Tries Strettle 3, Nieto, Ashton, Wray; Conversions Hodgson 4; Penalties Hodgson 3. Worcester: Tries Drauniniu, Kvesic; Conversions Gray 2; Penalty Gray.

Saracens: C Wyles (A Goode, 69); C Ashton, J Tomkins (D Taylor 49), B Barritt, D Strettle; C Hodgson, N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 23-26, 40) ; R Gill (M Vunipola, 54), J Smit (J George, 54), M Stevens (C Nieto, 49), G Kruis, M Botha (E Sheriff, 64), K Brown (capt), J Wray, J Burger (J Melck, 65).

Worcester C Pennell; J Drauniniu, A Grove, J Matavasi (J Clarke, 70), D Lemi; D Gray (J Carlisle, 64), J Arr (P Hodgson, 64); M Mullan (C R Jones 55-60), E Shervington (A Lutai, 56), J Andress (R O'Donnell, 55), J Percival (capt; D Schofield, 67), C Jones, N Best, S Taulava, M Kvesic (J Abbott, 64).

Referee T Wigglesworth (Hull).