Saracens 26 Bath 20: Jackson's control and cunning puts victory beyond Bath's reach

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The Independent Online

Saracens returned to winning ways in the Guinness Premiership, regaining fourth spot from Sale with a disciplined and doughty performance against Bath.

Director of Rugby Alan Gaffney said afterwards: "I'm ecstatic with the win. That was an important game for us. If we'd been beaten today then the top three in the league would have jumped about nine points clear and that would have left us in a fairly shaky position going into the second half of the Premiership programme."

Crucially, third-placed Bath lost one of their chief play-makers Butch James after 25 minutes. He had just scored Bath's first try, but in manoeuvring to touch the ball down under a tangle of bodies he suffered a suspected dislocation of his right shoulder.

"He has been playing well for us," said Steve Meehan, the Bath head coach. "He has helped us get on the front foot, but Shaun Berne and Olly Barkley are equally capable of doing the same."

But Bath's demise could not be put down solely to the loss of James. Saracens, freshly anointed as top seeds in the Heineken Cup, were up for this match despite a lack of key personnel.

They had rested England flanker Richard Hill and winger Kameli Ratuvou, lock Chris Jack was in New Zealand sorting out his family's move to the northern hemisphere and captain Neil de Kock pulled out late with a niggly hamstring. They then lost Andy Farrell early in the second half to a popped rib.

But those left at home and standing made a mockery of the fact that Saracens have just one representative in either of the England or the Saxons' squads – the talented and abrasive Ben Skirving.

"We had 12 guys starting today who are eligible to play for England but we don't seem to get recognition in that regard."

Steve Borthwick, paying an early visit to his future employers, did Saracens no favours when he won the lineout that led to Bath's opening try, but the homeboys bounced back well.

Glen Jackson, who controlled events superbly with his thoughtful kicking and tricky handwork, launched a long pass to release Brent Russell, the speedy Springbok full-back for the first of his two tries.

The conversion and a couple of penalties gave Saracens a comfortable platform on which they built solidly after the interval. There was barely a flicker when Michael Lipman muscled through then off-loaded to put Barkley over for a try.

The gap was a point, but that widened when Bath fell foul of referee Dean Richards. Jackson knocked over the simple penalty.

Three minutes later the New Zealand born, England qualified fly-half chipped over the opposition, got the luck of the bounce and sent Russell clear for his second try. Jackson's fourth penalty looked to have settled it, but then came a remarkable display of strength from Jonny Faamatuainu.

The lock, who had replaced Andy Beattie in the back row, scooped up the ball at a ruck and went down the narrow side which was covered by Russell.

The South African's brave attempt to stop the Samoan freight train came to nought. The Bath man carried on to the line seemingly oblivious of the earthling clinging on to him. He did finally topple – over the line flinging out a long arm to touch down.

Saracens moved upfield from the restart and looked to have set up a Jackson drop goal which would have denied Bath a losing bonus point, but scrum-half Alan Dickens hoofed the ball into touch and victory was secured.

Saracens: Tries Russell 2; Conversions Jackson 2; Penalties Jackson 4.

Bath: Tries James, Barkley, Faamatuainu; Conversion Barkley; Penalty Barkley.

Saracens: B Russell; R Haughton, A Powell, A Farrell (capt; F Leonelli, 45), R Penney; G Jackson, A Dickens; N Lloyd, F Ongaro (A Kyriacou, 59), C Johnston, T Ryder, H Vyvyan (P Gustard, 68), K Chesney, D Seymour (D Barrell, 43), B Skirving.

Bath: N Abendanon; A Higgins, S Berne (capt), O Barkley, M Banahan; B James (E Fuimaono-Sapolu, 26), M Claassens; D Barnes, L Mears (P Dixon, 70), M Stevens, S Borthwick, D Grewcock (P Short, 65), A Beattie (J Faamatuainu, 64), M Lipman, D Browne.

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire)