Strettle cuts a dash as Saracens march on

Leeds 14 Saracens 26
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The Independent Online

Saracens did enough yesterday, just about, although this was no vintage display. Then again, it did not need to be. Brendan Venter's team were workmanlike and occasionally thrilling but some way below their freeflowing best, yet this win rarely looked in any doubt.

A real test of Sarries' credentials will come in Sunday's home game with Northampton, who lead the Premiership after three straight victories and with whom Venter's team have developed a bitter rivalry.

"It's a big game on Sunday," Venter said with more than a hint of understatement. "Northampton are a good side, we all know that. They've won three out of three and we've won two, so it's something nice to look forward to."

Venter's men hardly got past second gear and yet still had too much quality for Leeds Carnegie, who slipped to their third straight defeat.

England wing David Strettle showed further signs that his renaissance at Vicarage Road following his summer move from Harlequins is one of substance by touching down in the 26th minute for a clinical score. Replacement hooker, Schalk Brits, was driven over the line for a late second and, with Derick Hougaard a pivotal figure at No 10, weighing in with 16 points with the boot, Venter found much reason for optimism going into Sunday's showdown. "I was sat here a couple of months ago after Leeds had beaten us at Headingley, but we matched them at the set-piece and ran out convincing winners today," he said.

It was a despairingly frustrating afternoon for Leeds, and Steve Thompson in particular. The England hooker made his first start for the club but frequently fell foul of referee Sean Davey at the breakdown in an awful first half in which the hosts looked to the youthful promise of fly-half Christian Lewis-Pratt to guide them around the field. The 19-year-old, signed from Northampton, lacks nothing in confidence and showed glimpses of his talent with some astute kicking out of hand before eventually succumbing to injury.

Saracens always gave the impression they could move through the gears when the opportunity arose – and so it proved when Strettle grounded a delightful kick from Hougaard in the right-hand corner. Hougaard converted and landed two penalties to put Saracens 13-0 ahead at the break.

Leeds responded with penalties from Lewis-Pratt and Leigh Hinton, but Dan Browne spilled the ball just yards from the line and was punished when the indomitable Brits was driven over the line to render James Tincknell's late try meaningless.

Leeds: Try Tincknell; Penalties Lewis-Pratt, Hinton 2; Saracens: Tries Strettle, Brits; Conversions Hougaard 2; Penalties Hougaard 4.

Leeds: M Stephenson; L Blackett, Tincknell, S Barrow, S Tadulala (H Fa'afili, 65); C Lewis-Pratt (L Hinton, 54), S Mathie (W Fury, 70); M Macdonald (G Hardy, 70), S Thompson (A Titterrell, 65), J Gomez (P Swainston, 59), T Denton (S Hohneck, 65), M Wentzel, K Myall (R Oakley, 59), H Fourie, D Browne.

Saracens: A Goode (M Tagicakibau, 46); D Strettle, K Ratuvou, B Barritt, C Wyles; D Hougaard, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 53); D Carstens (M Parr, 65), E Reynecke (S Brits, 53), C Nieto (P D Plessis, 53), S Borthwick, G Kruis (H Smith, 65), J Melck (N Mordt, 78), J Burger (K Brown, 72), E Joubert.

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).