Jack in the pack gives Saracens winning hand

Saracens 16 London Irish 13
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The Independent Online

The Premiership's pacesetters suffered their first defeat in 11 league and cup matches as Saracens, powered by an impressive effort from their forwards, reignited their season in front of a big holiday crowd. The Exiles, whose last defeat was against Bath in September, produced a lack-lustre performance after their impressive victory over Glouc-ester last weekend and Saracens won a scrappy match which produced only one try for each side. Both were scored in the first half.

The cold and blustery conditions tested the skills of the Premiership's two leading goal-kickers, Saracens' Glen Jackson and Peter Hewat of London Irish, and they both missed early penalty opportunities.

Saracens, with the former All Black lock (and later man of the match) Chris Jack to the fore, dominated the first quarter territorially, and eventually Jackson was able to open the scoring with a penalty. The Exiles' response, however, was immediate. The Samoan wing Sailosi Tagicakibau and Hewat combined and the Australian full-back went clear before stepping inside and giving the flanker Declan Danaher a clear run to the posts. Hewat converted and Irish appeared to be off and running.

The England Under-20 wing Noah Cato was causing Irish problems, however, and after Tagicakibau allowed the Saracen's kick to bounce, the home side won a penalty which Jackson knocked over to bring up 900 career Premiership points.

Hewat restored Irish's lead to four points and his side's aggressive midfield defence repelled Saracens, who had the vocal backing of the crowd. Eventually some nifty footwork from Cato and Jackson led to a break through the green and white wall, just after the half-hour. The Exiles scrum-half, Paul Hodgson, was carried over his own line and from the resulting scrum and a ruck his opposite number, Moses Rauluni, spotted a gap and dived over.

Jackson's conversion put Saracens 13-10 up and Irish started the second half uncertainly. Hewat's missed touch gave Saracens field position but Jackson's ensuing penalty hit the post. Cato was then guilty of over-confidence when his unwise inside flick from the touchline went forward. Irish pressure produced a penalty in front of the posts and Hewat levelled the scores.

Hewat missed another penalty chance just before the hour and he was punished by a Jackson penalty to put Saracens 16-13 in front.

An arm injury to Tagicakibau brought Irish's player-coach, Mike Catt, on to the field in an attempt to steady the ship from fly-half. The former England player's influence helped produce the most sustained spell of Irish possession, but Saracens, mustering around the formidable Jack, held their nerve to contain the visitors for most of the last quarter.

There was to be no repeat of the Exiles' 11 points in the final six minutes of November's fixture in Reading and Hewat missed from the touchline with the Exiles' final attempt to save the game.

Saracens: A Goode; K Ratuvou, K Sorrell, A Powell (A Farrell, 75), N Cato; G Jackson, J Rauluni; N Lloyd, F Ongaro, C Johnston (C Visagie, 77), S Borthwick (capt), C Jack, W van Heerden, M Owen, A Saull (B Skirving, 73).

London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau (M Catt, 61); S Geraghty, P Hodgson (A Lalanne, 73); C Dermody (D Murphy, 64), D Paice (D Coetzee, 63), T Lea'aetoa (A Corbisiero, 54), J Hudson (K Roche, 54), B Casey, D Danaher, C Hala'Ufia (R Thorpe, 75), S Armitage.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).