A splendid Premiership start for Sarries and Schalk
SATURDAY PREMIERSHIP WRAP: Schalk Burger scored on his Premiership Rugby debut as reigning champions Saracens blew Worcester Warriors away with a second half blitz to secure a bonus-point 35-3 win at the London Double Header.
Four second half tries from Jamie George, Alex Lozowski, Burger and a stunning individual effort from replacement scrumhalf Ben Spencer were enough for the Allianz Park side as they swept aside a stubborn Warriors outfit.
While in the other two fixtures of the day Bath kept out a resilient Northampton Saints outfit to secure an 18-14 win and Harlequins recover from 14-3 down to beat Bristol Rugby 21-19 on their return to Premiership Rugby at the London Double Header.
We look at the Saturday matches!
Saracens 35-3 Worcester Warriors
Carl Hogg’s side defended admirably in the first half and new Saracens flyhalf Alex Lozowski missed two kicks on goal as the two sides went in at the break finely-poised at 6-3.
But Mark McCall clearly had strong words at half-time as Saracens looked every inch the defending champions when they emerged for the second half, Lozowski knocking over a penalty almost immediately before Jamie George scored from a driving maul.
Burger traded passes with countryman Schalk Brits then capitalised on superb play from Billy and Mako Vunipola before powering over before Ben Spencer lit up Twickenham with a super individual score in the dying moments.
New Zealander Jackson Willison was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown, and new man Alex Lozowski knocked over the three points after 20 minutes.
Ben Te’o put in a perfectly timed shot on England hooker Jamie George and he continued to make his presence felt when he looked clean through for the opening try, but Alex Goode covered well.
Jamie George was prominent in attack and an inside ball from Richard Wigglesworth sent him racing through to the line but he was hit hard by Dean Hammond before Niall Annett gifted Lozowski a shot that he scraped wide.
Ryan Lamb then pulled Worcester level from the tee on 27 minutes after England lock George Kruis was pinged for infringing at the line-out.
Saracens made the most of a directionless Worcester kick, stringing the phases together to take them deep into the opposition 22.
It then took a strong Hammond cover tackle on Chris Ashton to rescue the Warriors and as the ball was recycled Kruis reached for the line, but came just short.
Lozowski made amends for two errant penalty attempts with a well-struck three-pointer just before the break.
The former Wasps man then doubled Sarries’ lead immediately after half-time when Tevita Cavubati gave away a clumsy penalty in a kickable position.
Warriors attempted to attack from deep inside their own half and when Sean Maitland intercepted a loose pass, Worcester gifted Saracens priceless field position with a breakdown penalty.
George then got the try he deserved five minutes into the second half. On his 150th appearance for Saracens, he was the at the back of a tightly-packed maul which the Champions marched over Worcester’s line for their first try of the season, which Lozowski converted.
A wave of Worcester replacements barely had a chance to find their feet when a faked driving lineout put Vunipola into space.
The England No.8 was brought down just before the line, but the ball was recycled and South African World Cup winner Burger sent Lozowski over for his first Saracens league try, which he then converted to put his side 23-3 up after 53 minutes.
With Worcester down to 14 men, Burger was instrumental in creating his own try five minutes later, exchanging passes with Schalk Brits at the line-out and then again in open play before bulldozing over under the posts, before Lozowski easily converted.
Spencer created something from nothing with two minutes remaining, breaking from outside the 22, stepping superbly and dancing home for an outstanding individual score.
Tries: George, Lozowski, Burger, Spencer
Cons: Lozowski 3
Pens: Lozowski 3
For Worcester Warriors:
Yellow Card: James Johnston (Worcester Warriors, 56)
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Mike Ellery.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Jackson Willison, 14 Dean Hammond, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (c), 7 Marco Mama, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Na’ama Leleimalefaga, 18 James Johnston, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Perry Humphreys
Referee: Matt Carley
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell, Rger Bailef
TMO: Graham Hughes
Northampton Saints 14-18 Bath
England international George Ford was exceptional from the tee, the Bath flyhalf slotted a penalty and a drop goal for a 6-0 half-time lead.
Ford took the lead out to 18 points with ten minutes remaining after three more flawless penalties and a drop goal, but the hosts did not go down without a fight as two late Nic Groom scores brought the Saints roaring back.
But Bath deservedly hung on to take the spoils and win at Franklin’s Gardens for the first time in 16 years.
The hosts had the better of the early pressure without turning their territorial advantage into anything tangible, as the odd handling error counted against them.
There were signs of what the next few months will bring at Franklin’s Gardens following the arrival of Frenchman Louis Picamoles with repeated attacks on the gain line being made via the No.8’s hands.
But most of the opening quarter was fairly scrappy with the kicking games of both Harry Mallinder and Ford initially lacking accuracy and penetration.
The first scoring attempt didn’t arrive until the 25th minute when Mallinder, preferred ahead of Stephen Myler at flyhalf, pushed a long-range penalty wide of the posts.
Bath were hardly helped by the early departure of Taulupe Faletau courtesy of a knee injury, and while their pack lacked the thrust of their Northampton counterparts, they retained a threat on the counter-attack when the hosts’ handling let them down.
Slightly against the run of play, Bath opened the scoring in the latter stages of the half when, having hit the upright with a drop-goal attempt, Ford found his range from 35 yards out when play was brought back for a Northampton infringement.
With the momentum gradually moving into Bath’s favour despite rarely venturing anywhere near the try line, Ford – whose tactical kicking was now rid of any rustiness – doubled the lead with a neatly executed drop-goal a few minutes later.
But Mallinder was not firing on all cylinders from the tee and a straightforward penalty from 30 yards was sent in the same direction as his first effort.
The six-point advantage became nine shortly after the interval when Ford added a second penalty to his tally, as Northampton were penalized at a scrum bang in front. Bath, now two scores to the good, looked all the brighter for it.
A strong break by Semesa Rokoduguni from deep in his own half broke down on halfway as he ran into Mallinder rather than backing himself in a foot race, but it provided evidence that the contest was starting to open up.
Ford was doing a thoroughly professional job of controlling proceedings in the torrential conditions, and doubled his number of drop-goals for the afternoon as he skidded one low over the crossbar following a well-worked move in midfield.
And his personal contribution increased again not long afterwards when penalties number three and four were sent over.
Both sides made a raft of changes heading into the final quarter and the fresh burst of energy finally gave the healthy home crowd something to shout about when substitute Groom pierced the Bath defence from close range.
The debutant notched a second a minute from time as Northampton worked an opening on the right hand side – Myler again converting – but it was too little, too late for the Saints.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Groom 2
Cons: Myler 2
Pens: Ford 4
DG: Ford 2
Yellow Card: Chris Cook (Bath, 73)
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood (captain), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 George North
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 David Denton, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 David Sisi, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jeff Williams
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Ross Campbell
TMO: David Sainsbury
Harlequins 21-19 Bristol
Tom Varndell had opened the scoring for Bristol with a superb interception for his 86th Premiership Rugby try and though Evans pegged them back with a penalty, Tusi Pisi broke away for the visitors’ second converted try.
Harlequins fought back, Marland Yarde scoring from a driving maul before youngster Joe Marchant danced through three tackles to go under the posts for a converted try just before the break.
Ryan Edwards struck just after half-time, but Evans kicked two more penalties to seal John Kingston’s first Premiership Rugby win as director of rugby in front of 47,029 fans at Twickenham.
When Danny Care looked to attack from deep with 20 minutes gone, Varndell quickly read the England scrumhalf’s pass and intercepted at full-pace, galloping under the posts.
Gavin Henson converted but Evans drew Harlequins within five points when he knocked over an easy penalty with 15 minutes left in the half.
It was Andy Robinson’s newly-promoted team who scored next when a loose kick found scrum-half Will Cliff, his neat sidestep taking him past Ross Chisholm, he then delivered a flat pass to Pisi who slipped through two tackles and under the posts.
Henson converted but was forced off the field through injury.
Harlequins were rewarded for their bravery when Evans turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner with a minute to go in the first-half.
Quins claimed the lineout and drove for the whitewash and as Jamie Roberts and Marland Yarde leant their weight to the maul, it was the winger who managed to touch down before Evans dragged his conversion wide.
A Jordan Crane penalty gifted possession back to Quins straight from the restart and Marchant made Robinson’s side pay.
The 20-year-old showed great composure in heavy traffic, stepping his way through three tackles to finish next to the post, Evans converted for an unlikely 15-14 half-time lead.
Bristol surged back after the break, and when Marchant struggled to deal with Edwards’ kick ahead – the youngster fumbling under intense pressure – the winger was on hand to touch down.
Pisi failed to convert from the touchline and Evans’ penalty pulled Quins within a score with 20 minutes remaining before a second five minutes later gave them a lead they would not relent.
Tries: Yarde, Marchant
Pens: Evans 3
Tries: Varndell, Pisi, Edwards
Cons: Henson 2
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Twomey, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Alofa Alofa
Bristol: 15 Jack Wallace, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Jack Lam (captain), 6 Jon Fisher, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Mitch Eadie, 22 Rhodri Williams, 23 Ben Mosses
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt