Treviso are not in the best of odours with certain members of the Italian Rugby Union, who take the view that a recruitment policy apparently aimed at players raised on biltong and beer rather than pasta and pinot grigio gives the governing body precious little in the way of a return on its handsome financial investment. Saracens know how they feel: they too have their share of South Africans on the roster, a fact that has not gone unnoticed at Twickenham.
Which is pretty much where the similarity ends. When the two clubs met on European business in Watford yesterday, the gulf – in class, in depth, in know-how, in everything – was as plain as the eternally bloodied nose on Steve Borthwick's face, and the performances of some of the Premiership club's home-developed talent rendered any criticism of their methods wholly redundant. Owen Farrell? Terrific, as usual. James Short? An England wing in the making, surely. Andy Saull? Back to his energetic best. As for Ben Spencer...
Ben who? Now, there's a question. The 19-year-old scrum-half first pitched up at Sarries back in the summer, from Cambridge (the rugby club, not the university). He had been spotted at a seven-a-side tournament and was initially invited along to "help us out by making up the numbers", as the head coach, Mark McCall, put it. His efforts in training were so striking that when Richard Wigglesworth, one of England's half-backs at the World Cup, broke down immediately on his return and was ruled out for the season, McCall felt no need to go shopping. "That," the coach added, "says it all."
Spencer, a Heineken Cup virgin, found himself on the field early when Neil de Kock tottered unsteadily towards the dressing room. The game was scoreless at that stage and, although Saracens were dominating each and every phase, the big-kicking Treviso outside-half Willem de Waal and the strong-running right wing Benjamin de Jager were showing flashes of something interesting here and there. Spencer, cucumber-cool, promptly set about driving his side forward, mixing up his game cleverly and giving Farrell and Charlie Hodgson, alternating at first receiver, the time and space they needed to pull the Italians inside out.
Farrell, in particular, had himself a ball, scoring all 16 of his side's first-half points, and his opening try just past the half-hour mark showcased many of the things Saracens do well. Short scuttled back to hoover up a dangerous kick from the Treviso wing Brendan Williams before setting sail on a 40-metre run upfield, setting the position from which Hodgson punted diagonally towards the right corner. When the ball bounced away from the covering Ludovico Nitoglia and into the in-goal area, Farrell's enthusiastic and apparently optimistic tracking of the ball paid dividends.
Tries came at regular intervals after the break: David Strettle took advantage of a trademark inside flick-pass from Schalk Brits; Chris Wyles crossed in the right corner after Hodgson had put Farrell in the hole with a lovely delayed delivery in midfield; Ernst Joubert slithered over the line after high-calibre approach work from Alex Goode; John Smit, the recently retired Springbok and one of the larger specimens in a Saracens squad not noted for its midgets, split the Treviso defence asunder from the heart of a driving maul. With Farrell adding the extras more often than not, two late scores from the visitors barely registered on the consciousness.
He is a piece of work, this Farrell. If his efforts in helping Saracens to a first domestic league title last season suggested as much, his contribution yesterday confirmed it. He played here, ostensibly at least, at outside centre, but his understanding with Hodgson, who arrived from Sale in the summer, already has a telepathic quality. By switching and swapping positions, the two men – one an England stand-off of the past, the other of the future – were able to change the point of attack at will. Try as they might, Treviso could not make sense of the variables.
Smit, who led South Africa to the world title in 2007 and was captain of his country again this time round, was suitably impressed. "I've only been at the club a fortnight and I wouldn't know some of the young kids from a bar of soap," said the grand old front-rower, rejoicing in his debut try, "but there are some players you just know will play international rugby. It's a case of when, not if."
Quite whether the England hierarchy, such as it is, will perform cartwheels at the prospect of Farrell spending large amounts of his time at No 13 rather than No 10 is a moot point, but according to McCall, the club will take all reasonable steps to help the youngster make the most of himself at representative level. "No one has spoken to us about Owen and his position, but if any request is made we'll do our best to accommodate it," the coach said. "We want Owen to push on." This much is certain: there is something very good indeed happening at Saracens.
Saracens: Tries Farrell, Strettle, Wyles, Joubert, Smit; Conversions Farrell (4); Penalties Farrell (3). Treviso: Tries Sbaraglini, Padro; Conversions De Waal (2); Penalty De Waal.
Saracens C Wyles (A Goode, 62); D Strettle, O Farrell, B Barritt (A Powell, 67), J Short; C Hodgson, N De Kock (B Spencer, 26); R Gill (D Carstens, 57), S Brits (J Smit, 59), M Stevens (C Nieto, 57), S Borthwick (capt) (G Kruis, 66), H Smith, K Brown, A Saull (J Melck, 2-12), E Joubert.
Treviso L Nitoglia; B De Jager (F Sbaraglini, 40+9 - ht, K Burton, 76), T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, B Williams; W De Waal, F Semenzato (T Botes, 78); M Rizzo (I Rouyet, 51), D Vidal (Sbaraglini, 47), L Cittadini (P Di Santo, 63), A Pavenallo (capt) (G Padro, 47), C Van Zyl (V Bernabo, 63), B Vermaak, A Zanni, R Barbieri (M Vosawai, 47).
Referee J Lacey (Ireland).Reuse content