As the teams were preparing to return, Hardwick was finally carried off on a stretcher to hospital where he was awaiting an X-ray last night. He was unconscious when the medics arrived, and initial feelings were that he was felled by a high swinging arm, about which Saracens may hear more. The games of tag rugby and the slapstick throwing competition that were staged around him during the break constituted a final insult.
Almost as insulting for Irish, though, was how little Saracens had to do to win by so comfortable a margin. Precious few of Saracens' backs had the privilege of touching the ball, but their pack, featuring the return of Cobus Visagie, had a field day at scrum time, and that was enough.
As early as the sixth minute, they so disrupted an Irish scrum that Kyran Bracken was able to secure the ball. Glen Jackson's cross-kick was half-charged down, but a wicked bounce led to Rod Penney ending up on his backside, allowing Kevin Sorrell to gather and score. Irish played most of the rugby. But a spilled pass afforded Saracens the chance to counter for their second, and suddenly Irish were 14-0 down.
Irish may spend a bit of time wondering how to contain people like Visagie. The scrum accounted for two more of Saracens' tries. Bracken claimed one on the half-hour and Ben Skirving the other 10 minutes from the end.
Irish did get on the scoresheet in the second half, with Penney scything through off a beautiful move, and they should have had another towards the end, but the showboating Delon Armitage's swallow dive was so extravagant that he lost the ball. He leapt up and punched someone. Result: a penalty for Saracens.
If Saracens win at Wasps in December they could yet go through. Such matters, however, would have seemed trivial to Rob Hardwick yesterday.
Saracens: Tries Sorrell, Bailey, Bracken, Skirving; Conversions Jackson 3; Penalties Jackson 2. London Irish: Try Penney Conversion Flutey Penalties Flutey 2.
Saracens: D Scarbrough; B Russell, T Castaignède (A Powell, 77), K Sorrell, P Bailey; G Jackson, K Bracken (A Dickens, 57); K Yates (N Lloyd, 57), M Cairns (S Byrne, 69), C Visagie (A Liffchak, 72), S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 63), I Fullarton, H Vyvyan (capt), A Sanderson (T Randell, 40), B Skirving.
London Irish: D Armitage; S Staniforth, R Penney, S Geraghty (M Catt, 73), J Bishop; R Flutey, B Willis; N Hatley, D Paice (A Flavin, 40), R Hardwick (M Collins, 40), R Casey (capt; R Strudwick, 57), K Roche, P Gustard (K Dawson, 72), D Danaher, J Leguizamon.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).