Ojo makes Sarries pay as push comes to shove

London Irish 33 Saracens 16
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The Independent Online

Draw no conclusions for the rest of the season from this error-strewn Aviva Premiership match. London Irish and last season's beaten finalists, Saracens, will play far better but the Irish were delighted with victory and a bonus point that was secured with the last move of the match.

It made a nonsense not only of their poor first half but also the injury list which has disrupted their pre-season. Moreover it suggested that Delon Armitage, who endured so unhappy a 2009-10 season, is on his way back to the form that made him a stand-out for club and country a season earlier.

The contest was affected by nerves, three yellow cards and an injury to Alex Goode which disrupted his eagerly-awaited opportunity to wear the fly-half jersey for Saracens. Goode, so formidable and entertaining a competitor at full-back, is destined to take over from Glen Jackson, now retired, but he took a blow to a shoulder early on and then switched to No 15 to allow a more secure goalkicker, Derick Hougaard, to take the field in the second half.

Goode then limped off to have his left calf iced, having looked more dangerous playing from deep. However, he had not been able to compete with the older Armitage, who compensated for a spell in the sin-bin by scoring his side's third try from a pass by Steffon, his younger brother.

It seemed appropriate that Ernst Joubert, the man who scored two tries in that pulsating Twickenham final against Leicester at the end of last season, should score the first in the Premiership at headquarters this season. The No 8's influence on the rise and rise of Saracens has been undoubted and here his contribution was made all the more pointed by Irish's failure to make the best of early territory and possession.

A full 25 minutes had passed before the scoreboard flickered into life, three minutes after the temporary departure of Delon Armitage, for a high tackle on Noah Cato. It was a period marked for Saracens by penalties and set-piece failures; if statistics meant anything, Irish would have been many points to the good. But Ryan Lamb's initial untidiness was underscored by a scruffy first attempt at a penalty goal and though the fly-half made up with two better efforts before the interval, it all helped surrender the initiative. Even then, Saracens lost a prime position by over-throwing at a line-out 10 metres from the Irish line.

Joubert, however, made sure they did not waste a second such chance. The South African won his side's first line-out and, cannily, remained on the right wing as the ball worked its way left and back again, Schalk Brits and, crucially, an overhead pass from Chris Wyles giving Joubert an unopposed run to the corner while the Irish were still reduced to 14 men.

Before the interval, Saracens had doubled their tally by shoving the Irish off their own scrum ball. Joubert smashed to within 10 metres of the posts and two rucks later Brits was over the line, having fended off Delon Armitage – the full-back's one major failure. Lamb kept his side in touch with a third penalty, helped by Goode's trip to the sin-bin for what the referee, Andrew Small, judged to be a deliberate knock-down.

In Goode's absence, Saracens were stretched to breaking point as the Armitage brothers combined down the left flank. Two minutes later, the Irish scored again. They took advantage as two Saracens collided, spilling the ball, and Lamb laid on the most accurate of cross-kicks for Sailosi Tagicakibau to cross the line unopposed.

Inspired by Brad Barritt, Saracens looked capable of overcoming an 11-point deficit and the departure to the sin-bin of Irish's scrum-half, Paul Hodgson, for the same offence as Goode, looked likely to help them. Hougaard kicked two penalties but they came no closer and in the final seven minutes Irish put themselves out of reach.

Topsy Ojo latched on to a loose ball and fly-hacked his way to the line, only to be pushed by Kevin Barrett as he went for the touchdown. A penalty try was awarded and Ojo received his just deserts as the clock struck 80, a long pass by Lamb – who improved significantly as the game wore on – giving him room to canter over for his side's fourth try.

London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'i (C Malone, 71), D Bowden (S Mapusua, 61), S Tagicakibau (J Joseph, 59); R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt), D Paice (J Buckland, 45), F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero, 41), K Roche (N Kennedy, 61), B Casey (M Garvey, 61), D Danaher, G Stowers, S Armitage.

Saracens C Wyles; N Cato (D Hougaard, 54), A Powell (K Ratuvou, 50), B Barritt, M Tagicakibau; A Goode (K Barrett, 68), R Wigglesworth; R Gill (D Carstens, 50), S Brits (E Reynecke, 75), C Nieto (P du Plessis, 50), H Vyvyan, M Botha (G Kruis, 50), K Brown (J Melck, 71), E Joubert (capt), J Burger.

Referee A Small (London).