Hard grafting Saracens claim the points but fail to convince

Saracens 20 Bath 9
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The Independent Online

Alex Goode's excellent right boot kicked Saracens to another edgy victory, in a contest in which they were never truly safe until the dying minutes.

Despite winning more games than league leaders and reigning champions Leicester, Saracens sit second because they simply don't win enough bonus points: they win, but they rarely wreck.

And if Saracens were to become Premiership champions for the first time, they would start their reign as nomads.

Barnet Council, while agreeing in general terms to the club's proposed move to Copthall Stadium next season, will not be able to confirm matters until June. That leaves Saracens considering a temporary extension at Vicarage Road – if allowed by Watford FC – and a few Wembley Stadium 'home' games until, as hoped, they become settled in January 2012.

The opening stages saw a missed Butch James penalty after four minutes, and two Goode penalties either side of Saracens' best attack of that period, a sustained barrage first right, then left, and naturally involving their extraordinary hooker, Schalk Brits.

Goode's opener, after 11 minutes, was for offside. His second, 12 minutes later, came after that sustained attack ended with Chris Wyles barging at the Bath line, only to be denied a try by the fourth official's repeated studies of the video.

The subsequent scrum ended with Bath offside, and they grew increasingly irritated with referee Nigel Owens. So, when James halved the deficit with a 35th-minute penalty, some of the cheers from the visiting supporters carried a hint of irony.

But when Saracens carved out the opening try on the stroke of half-time, the cheers were full-blooded. Matt Stevens found Richard Wigglesworth with a clever reverse pass, and the scrum-half's instant switch to Brad Barritt caught Bath off the pace. Barritt fed David Strettle, who scorched through the defence on the right and scored close to the flag.

Goode's 56th-minute penalty stretched Saracens' lead, but such gradual score-building tends to keep the opposition in touch, as James proved with a penalty two minutes later when Bath's first serious attack of the half led to a Saracens offence at the breakdown.

Bath were soon back in defence, however, and when another promising attack via Owen Farrell's break petered out close to the line, Saracens had to be satisfied with another Goode penalty. Sure enough, the next time Bath got over half-way, they got a penalty as a reward, and James kicked his third goal.

It seemed a try had to result when Bath got trapped on their line and had an attempted clearance charged down. But when the dust settled, another penalty, another fine strike by Goode and another three points ensued, where seven would not have been begrudged.

Scorers: Saracens: Try Strettle; Penalties Goode 5. Bath: Penalties James 3.

Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, C Wyles, B Barritt, J Short (N Cato, 71); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (K Barrett, 75); M Stevens (P Du Plessis, 59), S Brits (J George, 75), C Nieto (R Gill 41), S Borthwick (capt), H Smith (M Botha, 50), K Brown (J Burger, 50), E Joubert, A Saull.

Bath N Abendanon; M Banahan, B Williams, S Hape, M Carraro; B James (S Vesty, 78), M Claassens (G Mercer, 78); D Flatman (N Catt, 67), L Mears (P Dixon, 67), D Bell (D Wilson, 40), S Hooper, P Short (I Fernandez Lobbe, 67), B Skirving, S Taylor ( M McMillan , 14), L Watson (capt).

Referee N Owens (Wales).