Don Barrell grabbed a stunning last-gasp try for Saracens to clinch victory over GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title chasers Bath.
Second-half replacement Barrell’s score helped his team shrug off the shock departure of the club’s director of rugby Eddie Jones just 48 hours earlier. He struck just when it looked as though the goalkicking failures of fly-half Glen Jackson and substitute kicker Gordon Ross, who missed four penalties and four conversions between them, had cost the home side victory.
Six minutes after replacing prop Tom Mercey, 23-year-old Barrell burst down the left wing and dived over in the corner with only two minutes left on the clock. The touch judge’s flag went up and Saracens had to survive an agonising wait while referee Chris White consulted the video official before awarding the try.
Saracens’ left-wing Rod Penney had dragged them back into the game with two tries – including a sensational length-of-the-field dash for the second – and young hooker Alex Walker marked his first Premiership start with a try as the home side also secured a bonus point.
South Africa’s World Cup-winning fly-half Butch James, who kicked three penalties and a conversion as well as creating an excellent try for Alex Crockett, looked to have done enough to secure victory as Bath opened up a 16-0 lead. But Saracens mounted their sensational fightback to clinch victory.
Saracens coaching co-ordinator Richard Graham made two late changes. He brought back former South Africa prop Cobus Visagie in preference to Italian international Matias Aguero and Walker also received his late call-up after hooker Matt Cairns turned his ankle in training.
Jackson missed a second minute penalty for Saracens before James kicked Bath ahead in the 11th minute after the home side were caught offside in front of their own posts. The visitors went further in front in the 24th minute when James, receiving the ball from the back of a line-out, timed his probing side-footed kick to perfection for Crockett to collect and run in between the posts. James completed a simple conversion to put Bath 10-0 ahead.
The game boiled over two minutes later as several players piled into an ugly brawl which ended with Saracens lock Kris Chesney heading for the dressing room for 10 minutes with a gash over his left eye and a yellow card. Chesney had thrown an arm at Crockett after the Bath skipper took exception to Sarries’ scrum-half Justin Marshall clearing former Australia lock Justin Harrison away from the contact area.
After order was restored James kicked Bath further ahead, landing penalties in the 33rd and 37th minutes when Saracens fell foul of referee Chris White at a ruck and then a scrum. Saracens opened their account when the final move of the first half ended with Jackson timing his release just right to put winger Penney over in the left-hand corner.
Bath looked unfortunate to have a second try ruled out midway through the second half. James floated a pinpoint kick to the left touchline where giant winger Matt Banahan outjumped Haughton to win the aerial contest before diving over the line and looked totally dismayed when he was penalised for the challenge.
Saracens hit back with their second try in the 65th minute with Walker forcing his way over from close range.
Penney’s sensational second strike, when he prevented a Bath try by snatching up an attacking grubber kick from James on his own line before bursting clear and out-stripping his pursuers to dive over at the other end, took Saracens to within a point of Bath.
In a grandstand finish they maintained the pressure and, with Saracens failing to land a kick, Barrell ensured victory.