When Chris Jack made a scrabbling, knee-dirtying charge from a ruck to score his second try of the match and Saracens' fourth with about two minutes of normal time remaining, it was quite possibly the clinching moment in his side's attempt to reach a first Heineken Cup quarter-final.
As is customary on the penultimate weekend of the pool stage, there is much scratching of heads by the mathematically challenged among us, but the expensively acquired New Zealand lock's short-range effort, allied to Glasgow missing a bonus point on yesterday's winning trip to Viadana, gave Saracens a very handy five-point cushion over the Scots at the top of the table before the teams' climactic battle at Firhill on Friday night.
A Saracens penalty try deep into added time rubbed Biarritz's noses further into the Watford turf, and the Basque club – with a far more impressive record in this tournament than their hosts – can only hope to reach the last eight now as one of the two best runners-up.
Saracens' wobbles of the past fortnight, during which they lost Premiership matches against Newcastle and Bristol, appeared to be bedevilling them again to begin with. But the sheer will-power of Jack and Hugh Vyvyan, the Kiwi's much longer-serving pal in the second row, helped put away a team placed third in the French Championship with an impressive amount to spare.
Saracens' supporters had turned up in 10-year record numbers for the 20-17 loss to Newcastle here a fortnight ago, when Glen Jackson, who yet again proved yesterday his irreplaceable influence at fly-half, was left on the bench. All concerned are waiting to see what benefits may accrue from the possible investment by SAIL, the South African investment group part-owned by the multi-millionaire Johann Rupert. The investment of a reported £8-£10million would not be enough on its own to fund a new stadium anywhere near London, and there are three marketing, sports promotion and hospitality companies alongside Saracens in the umbrella group Premier Team Holdings which could gain from some of the cash. Still the butchers of Watford may be wise to stock up on the biltong.
When it came to butchering positions of promise, Saracens were too culpable for their own good in the first half, and after Jackson's opening penalty – he would miss only with his last attempt, the touchline conversion of Jack's late score – Biarritz led through Romain Cabannes' try from Damien Traille charging Andy Farrell down, and a conversion and penalty by scrum-half Julien Dupuy. On a handful of occasions Saracens' forwards forced Biarritz back through several phases, only for a fumble to ruin it.
And Biarritz had turned up in the mood for a scrap, keen to enhance their record of reaching at least the quarter-finals in six out of the seven years. Benoit August, the hooker, was warned for giving Jackson a right-hander, then Jackson felt the fingertips of Dupuy scraping across his face, again in a grapple after play had moved on.
Jackson was still shaking his head at the latter exchange when he kicked his second penalty of the half after 37 minutes to reduce the Biarritz lead to 10-6.
It was negated immediately when Saracens' all-court tighthead prop Cencus Johnston tugged an opponent off the ball and Dupuy kicked the penalty.
Only in the fifth minute of added time did Saracens draw level again. Jack and Farrell cut against the grain to straighten an attack and Jackson's typically confident dummy and pop pass sent Vyvyan over for Jackson to convert.
In a sense, at 13-13, the second half was like starting afresh. In fact Saracens showed a welcome obdurate streak for which their Anglo-Kiwi second row must take huge credit. Jackson's penalty in the 49th minute was followed soon after by Jack swivelling out of Jerome Thion's grasp behind a ruck to go on a 10-metre try-scoring gallop.
Another Dupuy penalty after 59 minutes was the visitors' final score. Farrell's midfield burst and De Kock's sweet reverse pass sent Rodd Penney weaving to the line. Jackson's conversion and penalty made it 33-16 in the 65th minute and Serge Betsen was sent to the sin-bin for use of the boot. After a worryingly barren interlude, Jack sealed it to the Saracens fans' understandable relief.
Saracens: B Russell; R Haughton, K Sorrell, A Farrell (A Powell, 74), R Penney; G Jackson (K Ratuvou, 79), N de Kock (capt, A Dickens, 79); N Lloyd, F Ongaro (A Kyriacou, 84), C Johnston (T Mercey, 79), C Jack, H Vyvyan (T Ryder, 84), K Chesney, R Hill, B Skirving (P Gustard, 79).
Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe, R Cabannes, D Traille (A Masi, 45), T Ngwenya (B Thiery, 55); J Peyrelongue, J Dupuy; P Balan (B Lecouls, 33-54), B August (B Noirot, 66), D Avril, J Thion (capt), T Hall, S Vahafolau (S Betsen, 54), I Harinordoquy, J Cronje.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content