Hill allows Saracens to forget the axe

Saracens 11 Leeds 6
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Everything was in a bit of a state at Vicarage Road yesterday, the sense of turmoil showing in both players and pitch.

Everything was in a bit of a state at Vicarage Road yesterday, the sense of turmoil showing in both players and pitch.

The Saracens team were uneasy in the wake of the sudden departure on Friday of the former Wales lock Craig Quinnell. That premature exit, with the player just a matter of months into a four-year contract, fuelled rumours that the axe was about to fall on up to 10 more.

The head coach, Wayne Shelford, admitted that the clear-out was not over, but with five months of the season remaining he said there were no plans to cull anyone in the immediate future.

Shelford then revealed that with the prop David Flatman possibly out for the rest of the season following a neck operation, Saracens had signed the Auckland Blues tighthead Mike Storey, who has Irish qualifications and will be available for Saturday's game at Leicester.

On top of all that the state of the pitch after Watford's First Division fixture the day before indicated a messy match. In fact, given the amount of rain that had fallen and continued to drop like a curtain throughout the afternoon, it was a minor miracle that the game finished, let alone went ahead, following a 1.30pm inspection of the mudbath.

The other miracle was that both sides were willing to attempt to run the ball. In Saracens' case it came off with a try for the England flanker Richard Hill in the seventh minute of first-half stoppage time.

It was about the only highlight up to that point as players slipped and slithered into and out of contact. Given the greasy nature of the ball it was remarkable that they could be penalised (as they were) for hanging on to it.

The stars for Saracens were Stuart Hooper and Abdel Benazzi, the second row pairing injected dynamism and aggression into the close quarters stuff and putting themselves about in defence as well.

Both sets of forwards generally did well, with Saracens just having the edge out wide in adapting to the conditions that little bit better.

Kicking from hand and at goal was always going to be a lottery with no firm platform for the non-kicking foot. Despite that, Leeds had stolen into the lead with Braam van Straaten's second penalty attempt in the 11th minute. Sadly for them he was unable to add to it until late in the second half – which was enough to earn them a bonus point for finishing within seven points of Saracens.

When Saracens finally turned it on towards half-time Leeds were knocked onto the back foot. Tim Horan, who had a fine match at fly-half, got the ball out to Darragh O'Mahony and his pass found the prop Christian Califano who sent Hill over in the corner. Then came van Straaten's second successful penalty and a tense, muddy finish.

Saracens: Try Hill; Penalties Wynnan, Goode. Leeds: Penalties Van Straaten 2.

Saracens: A Winnan; G Arasa, K Sorrell, T Shanklin, D O'Mahony; T Horan, K Bracken (capt); C Califano, M Cairns (J Ross, 70), J Marsters, S Hooper (C Yandell, 67), A Benazzi, T Roques (J Ross, 12-19), K Chesney, R Hill.

Leeds: D Scarbrough; W Stanley, T Davies, B van Straaten, D Albanese; G Ross, D Hegarty (A Dickens, 58); M Shelley (capt), M Regan, M Holt, S Campbell (C Murphy, 55), T Palmer, C Mather, I Feaunati, J Ponton (A Popham, 55).

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).