Full speed ahead as Saracens near Europe

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The Independent Online

A shower of meteorites, otherwise known as Saracens, rained on London Irish's parade and eclipsed them with a storming performance at The Stoop yesterday.

On this showing the signing of the France international Thomas Castaignÿde on Tuesday looks a trifle superfluous. Saracens had pace aplenty and invention out wide, always too much for their opponents.

True, Irish did rally late in the game, but they lacked that killer finish. When under the posts and pressing hard they literally chucked away the chance when scrum-half Junior Tonu'u's attempted pass was intercepted by a grateful Saracen, who was standing offside but got away with it. On another occasion Kieran Dawson contrived to knock on when inches from the line.

Saracens were far sparkier from front to back and there was every chance they would have run in even more tries than the four they managed in a first half which effectively settled the issue. What lingering hopes Irish may have harboured of getting into Europe next season were dashed against the rocks of the North London club's superior defence and classier attack. Saracens victory ensures they stay on target for a top-five place in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

Saracens took the initiative from Ben Johnston's fifth minute try to Richard Hill's glorious goose-stepping injury- time sprint to the posts. If Johnston's replacement Brett Sparg had shown even an ounce of footballing awareness when put clear they would have been even further ahead.

As it was Sparg's impression of poultry - namely a headless chicken - as he cut off all options and angles for Rob Thirlby, who was scorching along beside him, was nowhere near as impressive as Hill's later one.

Sadly, Thirlby was off target for the tries scored by Ryan Constable, the wing's 11th in the Premiership, and prop David Flatman's muscular effort as the half drew to a close.

Irish lacked cohesion, focus and, at times, composure. Too often at the breakdown they would fail to secure loose ball or, worse, having secured it, turn it over at the earliest opportunity. Or they would find themselves giving away penalties at crucial moments.

When they did threaten the Saracens line they ran into some marvellous defence. Exiles' hooker Richard Kirke found himself shunted unceremoniously into touch at the corner flag by Hill. Justin Bishop also got over the line but was guilty not so much of a double movement as for perpetual motion, after the tackle.

Flatman's try owed everything to Tony Diprose's wonderful hands which kept alive the movement long enough for Saracens to regroup and send in the young England A prop.

It was pretty much the same after the break, although predictably Irish came out steaming and Tonu'u's try, after he tapped a penalty to himself, fired them for a while. Jarrod Cunningham converted and the Exiles at least looked hungry. But after fly-half Matthew Leek's drop goal came the first of Kevin Sorrell's two tries.

Hill hoofed the ball behind the defence and the Saracens centre won the race to the touchdown. Sorrell's searing pace was rewarded with a second try when put through by Nick Walshe. In between Ben Whetstone had touched down for Irish, and Sorrell blotted his copybook when he picked up a yellow card for killing the ball.

It did not matter though. The 14 men of Saracens held out. Bishop's injury-time try was no more than a token.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt; M Rivaro, 76); J Bishop, B Whetstone, R Todd, J Cunningham; J Brown, J Tonu'u; N Hatley (M Worsley, 61), R Kirke, S Halford (K Fullman, 71), R Strudwick, N Harvey, A Mower (R Hunter, 71), R Gallacher, K Dawson.

Saracens: R Thirlby; R Constable (N Walshe, 70), B Johnston (B Sparg, 16), K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; M Leek (M Powell, 76), K Bracken; D Flatman (J White, 78), G Chuter (M Cairns, 78), J White (P Wallace, 50), K Chesney, D Grewcock, R Hill, T Diprose (capt), A Roques (B Cole, 70).

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).