Gavin Henson's heavenly passes can't stop Saracens sealing win against London Welsh

London Welsh 23 Saracens 28

Kassam Stadium

The try by Charlie Hodgson that ended more than four fallow hours without Saracens scoring one was, on the face of it, the difference in denying London Welsh an even better result from their latest tilt at unseating the Premiership establishment. After Gavin Henson had thrown out a pass from the Gods to set up Welsh's own second try, the upstart Exiles finished cursing a baffling scrum decision that ruined a comeback charge.

Henson, perhaps thankfully for the often controversial fly-half making his delayed debut for the Welsh after cracking a cheekbone in pre-season, was a mere observer at the added-time scrums that got the home coach's goat. Lyn Jones said the referee Luke Pearce apologised to the London Welsh players afterwards for "incorrectly ending the match on an incomplete scrum"; Pearce ruled Welsh were responsible for a collapse as they put in on the Saracens goalline, when at the scrum just before he penalised Sarries' Petrus du Plessis for collapsing. Still Jones was more of a mind to laugh than cry as his team moved a comforting nine points clear of the bottom club Sale Sharks. His narrative of Henson's lovely looped pass in the build-up to Tom Arscott's 74th-minute try was a gem. "We all saw the pass and thought 'what the hell's he doing?'" Jones said. "Then we all thought 'oh, that's the way'."

What the hell Henson has been doing in the past few years has often been a mystery, as he helter-skeltered around reality television and unfulfilling stints at Saracens, Toulon and Cardiff Blues following a injury-influenced exile of disillusion in the summer of 2009. Might the perma-tanned hero of two Wales Grand Slams find his nightmare ends here near Oxford's Dreaming Spires? It will take more than 80 minutes to judge but to make it through 80 without mishap was a good start. "There's the player on the field, the player in training and the player in the clubhouse," said Jones, Henson's one-time Ospreys coach. "At the moment he's ticked all the boxes."

These clubs were each other's first opponents in the second division when leagues in England began in 1987. Saracens spent big and painstakingly reached the heights of their first Premiership title two seasons ago. Welsh went swiftly in the opposite direction, but are fighting for their top-flight rights now. The dire predictions many made for them were lacking in two known unknowns: just how good or bad is the Premiership and how well would Welsh adjust? With two wins and two losing bonus points from the last four matches they have been cute in the tight, used bright-minded backs to attack without being stupidly ambitious and driven over the ruck after the tackle. Oh, and according to Saracens' director of rugby Mark McCall, they seal off with "the most illegal maul in the Premiership".

Jones has been receiving coaching assistance from Tony Hanks, late of Wasps and Sale, and Kingsley Jones. A stroke of luck helped too as Welsh took the lead while down to 14 men. Hodgson's stray pass was hacked on from halfway by Welsh's Canadian wing Phil MacKenzie who won the foot race with James Short. The conversion for 7-0 gave Henson his first points in the English Premiership, not that he had much chance during his previous three matches with Saracens. He appeared yesterday to sympathise not scowl when things went wrong; to appreciate, at 30, that talent and self-expression are useful only when it suits the team.

Hodgson is slightly further ahead in the scoring stakes: extending his wondrous Premiership record here to 2,061. But though he went in at half-time with 19 to his name they had not been straightforward in coming. Pressure was applied by kicking penalties to touch – the desire to upset Saracens' totemic Steve Borthwick cost Welsh's captain Jon Mills an early trip to the sin-bin – and a maul up the middle enabled Hodgson to run through a broken defence for a try he converted after 17 minutes. One miss from 45 metres and four successes had Saracens 19-13 up – to generous applause Henson kicked penalties in the 26th and 39th minutes – but not at full pelt with three other England backs Alex Goode, Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton rested, and Schalk Brits, Kelly Brown and Ernst Joubert absent from the pack.

Henson used the comfort-blanket of Hudson Tonga'uiha to pop passes to until the centre hurt a shoulder in a marginally legal tackle by Jackson Wray. When Hodgson broke the defensive line again on 49 minutes, Welsh only escaped when Andy Saull spilled in Tonga'uiha's tackle. Five minutes later, Mills was pinged for not rolling away and Hodgson's kick gave Saracens room to breathe at 22-13. Another penalty apiece for Hodgson and Henson soon followed.

Though Welsh's Franco-Romanian axis at prop kept Sarries sweating it was a surprise when the gap was closed. Henson's steepling kick drew a return up and under, Seb Jewell span out of a tackle and Henson's lob off his right hand freed Nick Scott and MacKenzie on the left, with Arscott supporting at pace. Hodgson's seventh penalty with five minutes remaining was the final score but far from the final act.

 



London Welsh: T Arscott; P MacKenzie, J Lewis, H Tonga'uiha (S Jewell 62), N Scott; G Henson, T Keats; F Montanella (T Bristow 70), D George (G Bateman 49), P Ion (A Joly 72), J Mills (capt), M Corker, D Browne (K Kulemin 59), M Denbee (A To'oala 64), E Jackson.

Saracens: C Wyles; D Strettle, J Tomkins (K Ratuvou 57), O Farrell, J Short; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 51; Wigglesworth 74); R Gill (M Vunipola 47), J Smit (J George 57), M Stevens (P du Plessis 62), S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis, W Fraser, A Saull, J Wray.

Referee: L Pearce (Devon).

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea