Sharp shoots Saracens to perfect start

Saracens 36 Rovigo 12
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The Independent Online

Saracens will find life considerably tougher when they travel to face Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon on Thursday night, but this bonus-point victory puts them top of the Amlin Challenge Cup's Pool Three.

With so tough a fixture looming so soon, it was to be expected that the Premiership leaders would mix and match their line-up, fielding no fewer than four debutants against Rovigo of Italy. Former England full-back Mike Horak marked his with a try, scrum-half Kevin Barrett was at home at this level and Michael Tagicakibau survived two shuddering tackles that would have left lesser men crawling towards a stretcher.

But the day belonged to two players from opposite ends of the birth certificate zone, long-serving centre Kevin Sorrell and teenage debutant fly-half Jake Sharp. For Sorrell, it was appearance number 299 for his one and only club – but his first senior outing since 14 February, since when he has undergone a total knee reconstruction.

To the delight of the entire club, Sorrell scored the first try, haring in on the left after only eight minutes. It was converted by Sharp who, at 18, looked the type of prospect guaranteed to make contract talks imminent.

A product of the Saracens mini-rugby section's under-sevens, Sharp kick-started his senior career with a drop goal after only three minutes. By the time he was replaced by Derick Hougaard in the 51st minute, Sharp had scored 14 points, thrilled the crowd and won man-of-the-match.

Saracens coach Mark McCall believes Sharp has all the attributes of a top-class fly-half. "Jake did all that was asked of him in a line-up that was a product of our desire to rest some of the guys who have played in all five of our league wins," said McCall.

"In fact, we did not play that well during certain periods, and that was nothing to do with Jake. I was delighted with his debut. The lad actually does have it all, the skills, the attitude, the authority to manage games. He talks to players of 30 as an equal, something you must be able to do if you want to reach the top. He has the full package, leadership comes naturally to him and we recognised that very early on."

Every time Saracens threatened to run away with the game, Rovigo upped their physical efforts, asked serious questions of the home defence and were kept in touch by the excellent goal-kicking of fly-half German Bustos, who was successful with four out of five attempts.

But the class-gap was evident, even with the mix-and-match line-up, and further tries by Don Barrell, driven over on the left by the pack; Horak, released by Sorrell's pass; and Rodd Penney for the bonus point made it six wins from six for Saracens.

Scorers: Saracens: Tries Sorrell, Penney, Barrell, Horak; Conversions Sharp, Hougaard; Penalties Sharp (3); Drop goal Sharp. Rovigo: Penalties Bustos (4).

Saracens: M Horak; R Haughton (Cato, 67), R Penney, K Sorrell, M Tagicakibau; J Sharp (Hougaard, 52), K Barrett (Marshall, 51); M Aguero (Brown, 66), F Ongaro, R Skuse (Mercey, 51), T Ryder, H Smith (Botha, 51), D Barrell, J Melck (Van Heerden, 46), M Owen (capt).

Rovigo: R Pedrazzi (Anouer, 65); M de Gasperi, A Pratichetti, A Sartoretto, A Bacchetti; G Bustos, P Travagli (Canale, 70); A De Marchi (Damiano, 66), L Mahoney (Buquete, 76), G Boccalon (Ravelle, 54), T Reato (capt), D Tumiati (Pellegrini, 67), N Badocchi, E Lubian, J Immelman (Barion, 33).

Referee: P Gauzere (France).

*Dave Walder was the hero for Wasps as they got their Amlin Challenge Cup campaign off to a successful start at Adams Park. But it was an often testing afternoon for the twice Heineken Cup winners against Parisians Racing-Metro 92.

Former Newcastle fly-half Walder kicked all his team's points to edge a tense Pool Four encounter 18-13.