Coach Joe Shaw insists captain Maro Itoje’s leadership at the death was the key as Saracens Storm progressed to the Aviva A League final with a hard-fought victory over Newcastle Falcons.
Mike Ellery crossed twice at Allianz Park as Storm notched seven of the game’s 12 tries in a 46-35 triumph to maintain their 100 per cent record for the season.
In addition to Ellery’s first score, Ernst Joubert, Richard Barrington and Ben Ransom gave the home side a 27-18 lead at the break although Falcons had Chris York and Alex Rogers’ tries to thank for still being in touch.
Tim Streather’s clever shimmy sent Ellery over for his second after the interval but when Matt Hankin and Itoje both spent time in the sin-bin, the visitors capitalised – Rob Hawkins' score, a penalty try and a Phil Godman drop goal earning them a 35-32 lead.
But with a place in the final at stake, Storm rallied and Ben Spencer wriggled over on 72 minutes for a try before a late penalty try secured the win.
Shaw admitted that while it wasn’t pretty, he was proud of his team’s ability to grind out a result.
“We were up against a good Newcastle team but found a way to win – with 16 minutes to go we had one in the sin bin then another one in the sin bin but we showed a lot of patience,” he said.
“I think the boys were in control for the majority of that game but testament to Newcastle – they’ve come a hell of a long way and were missing some players but they’ve managed to hang in there and make it a real dogfight.
“To hear how Maro Itoje decided to manage the last 10 minutes is fantastic for all of us and shows what a mature character he is becoming.
“I think the boys always believed – we had a good plan and although plans don’t always go the way you want them to, we scored seven tries.”
Storm’s opponents in the Aviva A League final on Monday will be Worcester Cavaliers after they battled their way to a 37-26 win over Bath United at Sixways.
Cavaliers lock James Percival bundled over for the game’s opening try but Rich Lane and Marcus Beer crossed to give the visitors a 13-10 half-time lead.
However, it was the home side who dominated the second period as Josh Drauniniu, Mat Gilbert, Leonardo Senatore and Charlie Mulchrone rendered Olly Woodburn’s late score as little more than consolation for Bath.
Bath’s Micky Young was shown a red card in the second half for a tip tackle but coach Neal Hatley claims his team’s performance in the competition as a whole means the future is bright at the Rec.
“We had three or four late withdrawals in terms of Semesa Rokoduguni, Ollie Devoto and a few other high-profile players who would have brought stability,” said Hatley.
“It’s an unbelievably young United side and I couldn’t be more proud and more pleased. Will Homer has been absolutely outstanding for the last three or four weeks.
“Max Northcote-Green, Tom Dunn, Kane Palma-Newport, Charlie Ewels… all of these young guys are 19 or 20 years old playing against a very experienced side with a few internationals.
“They’ve been absolutely outstanding this season, so I’m looking forward massively to the next few years and seeing these guys come through.”
The A League Final between Worcester Cavaliers and Saracens Storm will be at Sixways, Worcester at 7.30pm on Monday, 12 January. Admission is free of charge with a suggested donation of £2 to the Worcester Community Foundation on the gate.