Saracens continue to prove happy wanderers following victory over Racing Metro
Saracens 30 Racing Metro 13
Not everything Charlie Hodgson did for Saracens in Brussels on Saturday afternoon came off; the fly-half's twist and turn in a last-minute attack aimed at a fourth try was snuffed out in a tackle about 90 metres from the Racing Metro goalline. But most of Hodgson's contributions were of a high quality, as Saracens and their travelling circus went top of Heineken Cup Pool One with nine points from two matches and, in the same way, his club can cope with the odd hitch in their urge to be innovative.
It would have been fairly straightforward for Saracens to keep playing home matches at Watford FC, with the occasional one at Wembley while they wait to make their permanent base at the refurbished Copthall athletics stadium (to be rebranded as Allianz Park) in Mill Hill, north London, in late January. Instead, the kings of the road landed at the King Baudouin Stadium as the latest stop on a trek which has them also staging home fixtures in Twickenham, Wembley, Bedford, Watford and Milton Keynes. The Saracens' chief executive, Edward Griffiths, recently visited the MetLife Stadium, shared by New York Giants and New York Jets in the NFL, with a view to playing December's fourth-round Heineken Cup pool match with Munster there.
Sadly for lovers of the wild and wacky, there was a hole in the plan, or not in fact, as the stadium owners refused to drill the necessary holes in their artificial turf for rugby posts. It is not certain Munster would have played ball, in any case; similarly, Edinburgh turned down an expenses-paid trip to play the sixth-round game in Cape Town.
As for the Saracens players, they point to crucial away wins at Leicester, Northampton, Gloucester and Harlequins among other places in their march to the Premiership play-offs in the past three years, winning the title in 2011, as evidence home is where the heart is. "It doesn't matter about the external factors, the crowd, being away, it's about us playing well on the day," said Alex Goode, Saracens' England full-back. "We pride ourselves on the vibe and buzz in our group."
Goode and his team-mates appear to enjoy the wanderlust and they have taken seriously what others might see as frivolous bonding trips to Miami, Munich, Hong Kong and elsewhere. The assimilation of Chris Ashton, the roving wing with whom Goode is starting to strike up an understanding which might serve England well, has taken time. But with three tries here after five in Edinburgh the previous weekend, the scoreboard is churning again. "We're getting our precision and accuracy back," said Goode.
It did feel like a chance lost when Saracens were unable to turn a 20-3 half-time lead, featuring a third try by Steve Borthwick in the captain's fifth season at the club, into a bonus-point victory. With the ever-watchable Juan Martin Hernandez pushed forward to fly-half in place of Olly Barkley, Racing stuck to their task and the scrums swayed one way and another. A wish to pair Mako Vunipola and John Smit in the front row was Saracens' explanation for withdrawing Schalk Brits when it seemed the South African hooker might win the match on his own with the ball in hand. The Brits award for most lavish moment was his dummy, sidestep and short pass to send Chris Wyles over for Saracens' first try in the 22nd minute. In the second half, they crossed only once more against a team seventh in the French league, in the final five minutes when Hodgson toyed with Fabrice Estebanez to create a gap for flanker Will Fraser to charge through.
Goode is used as first receiver attacking the blindside, and with England under Stuart Lancaster yet to pick a footballing inside centre, it may be a useful trait for the national side next month.
Saracens: Tries Wyles, Borthwick, Fraser; Conversions Hodgson 3; Penalties Hodgson 3. Racing Metro: Try Imhoff; Conversion Estebanez; Penalties Barkley, Germain.
Saracens A Goode; C Ashton, O Farrell (J Tomkins, 69), B Barritt, C Wyles (D Strettle, 59); C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); R Gill (M Vunipola, 40), S Brits (J Smit, 55), M Stevens (C Nieto, 60), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (A Hargreaves, 53), K Brown (A Saull, 64), W Fraser, J Wray.
Racing Metro J M Hernande z; B Fall (J Jane, 60), M Bergamasco, F Estebanez, J Imhoff; O Barkley (G Germain, 40), M Machenaud; A lo Cicero (E Ben Arous, 49), D Szarzewski (B Noirot, 57), L Ducalcon (J P Orlandi, 63), K Ghezal, F van der Merwe (F Metz, 50), A Battut, B le Roux (M Matadigo, 51), J Cronje (capt).
Referee N Owens (Wales).
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