Visagie extinguishes Sparks

Saracens 16 - Worcester 10
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The Independent Online

A match with little to commend it other than the fact that Worcester managed something that Rotherham, when newly promoted themselves, failed to do last season - gain a bonus point away from home.

Yesterday, Worcester revealed a feisty nature and an ability to knock back their opponents in the loose and there is no doubt that once they have their recognised tight heads back to full fitness they will compete better at the set piece.

It was their failure at the scrum that was a feature of the match. Five penalties were given away as the former Saracens loose head Steve Sparks found his best efforts extinguished by the former Springbok tight head Cobus Visagie.

Their head coach, Andy Keast, was able to explain the set-piece failings, though. "We have two tight heads out injured and our loan prop, Colin Noon, was unable to start training with us until last Thursday, so there was no real preparation for the scrum. And Visagie is one of the top three tight heads in the world."

In the loose the Premiership new boys were a very different prospect. They played hard and fast at the rucks, clearing them with brutal efficiency and providing slick possession. And drove skilfully and effectively at every opportunity.

Their opening salvoes were stunning. After slipping behind to Thomas Castaignède's fourth-minute penalty, they steamed upfield, driving powerfully. Eventually they got close enough for Sparks to pick up at the back and sprawl across the line for Worcester's first try in the Premiership, which was converted by Tommy Hayes.

But thereafter the propensity to give away penalties coupled with Saracens' own sharpness meant that they were going to struggle to maintain their half-time lead.

By the end, though, two missed penalties by Hayes looked expensive, and the Worcester team, especially the pack, looked exhausted.

Dan Scarbrough, one of Saracens' better players, scored the clincher after Phil Bailey's first-half touchdown. But the potency of the Sarries backs was blunted somewhat by the ferocious defence which confronted them. It was only Bailey and Scarbrough's determination which saw them through.

Saracens: Tries Bailey, Scarbrough; Penalties Castaignède 2. Worcester: Try Sparks; Conversion Hayes; Penalty Hayes.

Saracens: R Kydd; P Bailey (R Haughton, 38), T Castaignède (N Little, 80+2), K Sorrell, D Scarbrough; M Bartholomeusz, M Williams (M Rauluni, 71); K Yates, M Cairns (R Ibanez, 59), C Visagie, S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 59), I Fullarton, T Randell, H Vyvyan (capt), R Hill.

Worcester: D O'Leary; B Gollings, T Hayes, G Trueman (T Delport, 59), T Lombard; J Brown, N Cole; S Sparks (T Windo, 36), B Daly (A van Niekirk, 67), C Noon (L Fortey, 54), T Collier (P Murphy, 50-59), C Gillies, L Greeff, D Hickey (B MacLeod-Henderson, 67), P Sanderson (capt).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).