Lacklustre Leeds fail to bridge yawning gap with Saracens

Leeds 27 Saracens 13 Saracens win 70-48 on agg
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The Independent Online

After Leeds had lost the first of the two matches by a whopping 36 points, this Zurich Premiership Wildcard tie was so dead that it would have been no surprise had the Tykes called in an embalmer. But despite yesterday's 70-48 aggregate defeat, Leeds, who finished fifth, will still get a place in next season's Heineken Cup if Wasps beat Bath in the final of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadium next Sunday.

Saracens, who had effectively made sure of aggregate victory at Vicarage Road last Wednesday, will now meet Leicester in the Wildcard final at Northampton on Saturday week, for a chance to take the sixth place available to English clubs in Europe's premier club competition.

The absurd complexities of these regulations have taken their toll even on those who understand them and, after the mid-week games were played in front of paltry attendances, there were just 1,407 spectators dotted around Headingley, by some distance Leeds' poorest crowd of the season. It wasn't an occasion for Mexican waves, but there was plenty of synchronised yawning.

The highlight of the afternoon was the introduction of Phil Christophers to those who were still awake. The former Bristol winger has signed a two-year deal, for Phil Davies' side. Time will tell what impact he has for the Tykes, but with Braam van Straaten on his way to Sale there will be a slot for a first-class goalkicker.

With the threat of relegation lifted, Saracens have been playing with greater freedom and fluency. Wayne Shelford, their director of rugby, was asked whether Saracens were experiencing something of the West Ham factor, with the renewal of contracts concentrating the minds of those whose future at the club is uncertain. "It's not that, it's a confidence thing," he replied. "Once we dealt with the relegation issue, we have begun to perform with greater self-belief."

A pity it wasn't evident earlier, for they have saved their best till last despite yesterday's defeat. There was little fluency on show as Saracens had only to contain Leeds and keep them from overhauling the deficit.

Right from the start that was on the improbable side of unlikely, as Leeds spilled the ball in contact with a profligacy bordering on the neglectful. True, they scored the only try of an excruciatingly unmemorable first half, when Dan Scarbrough squeezed in at the left corner to make the most of Gordon Ross' deft grubber. Ross failed with conversion, but with an early penalty to cancel out Andy Goode's similar score, Leeds turned round 8-3 up.

That soon became 8-10 when Matt Cairns put to good use Richard Haughton's unselfishness, and some tremendous support work. Goode converted, but from then on it was mostly Leeds as Chris Murphy, Alix Popham, and Cameron Mather crossed for tries. Two conversions by Ross made it 27-10, though Saracens had the last word when Goode stroked over an easy penalty.

Leeds: Tries Scarbrough, C Murphy, Popham, Mather. Conversions Ross 2. Penalty Ross. Saracens: Try Cairns. Conversion Goode. Penalties Goode 2.

Leeds: D Scarbrough; C Hall, G Harder, T Davies, C Emmerson (T Rock, 75); G Ross, D Hegarty (A Dickens, 48); M Shelley (capt, J Wring, 77), M Regan, G Kerr (M Holt, 77), C Murphy, P Murphy, C Mather (C Hogg, 74), J Ponton (I Feaunati, 48), A Popham (R Rawlinson, 3-13).

Saracens: T Horan (T Castaignède, 60); R Haughton, B Johnston (T Shanklin, 51), K Sorrell (capt), D O'Mahony; A Goode, M Williams; C Califano (J Ross, 78), M Cairns, M Storey (J Marsters, 50), C Yandell (R Russell, 71), K Chesney, T Roques (Marsters, 3-13), R Hill (R Peacey, 66), B Skirving.

Referee: T Spreadbury (North Somerset).