Saracens welcomed back Billy Vunipola in style as they scored five tries in an impressive victory at Newcastle Falcons.
The England back row made his first start in four months and the defending Aviva Premiership Rugby champions were ruthless throughout as Alex Lozowski scored two tries – while Mike Rhodes, Chris Ashton and Nathan Earle also scored.
The Falcons stayed within touching distance for most of the game until Sarries pulled away late on but they did score three times themselves through Dominic Waldouck, Vereniki Goneva and David Wilson.
The result sees Saracens close the gap on second-placed Exeter Chiefs, while Newcastle remain eighth.
All eyes were on England international Vunipola, as he returned to Saracens’ team for the first time in four months after a lengthy absence with a knee injury.
Vunipola was not the only player Mark McCall could select after injury – with winger Sean Maitland deemed fit after a rib problem.
Newcastle also had a pre-match boost, with Mark Wilson back in the team after illness and the hosts took an early leads through Sonatane Takulua’s penalty.
But Vunipola, eager to make an impact on his first game back, was never going to make a quiet introduction – and his powerful run forced a penalty which Alex Lozowski sent sailing through the posts.
And minutes later the champions hit the front as Mike Rhodes intercepted a pass and strolled to score the game’s opening try on his 50th Sarries appearance.
Newcastle huffed and puffed as they mounted a powerful attack, and they thought they scored when Takulua dived through a pile of bodies – but the TMO discovered Maitland’s last-gasp tackle forced him to spill the ball.
And Saracens countered in style, darting from one end of the pitch to the other in just a couple of phases – but Ashton knocked on just as he was about to dot down.
Newcastle survived on that occasion, but they could not stop Lozowski from scoring shortly before the break as he latched onto the end of an accurate Richard Wigglesworth kick.
The Falcons remained steady after the break, but Saracens extended their advantage shortly before the hour-mark as Ashton crossed after fine work from Rhodes and Jim Hamilton.
Waldouck responded for Newcastle as he skipped past one tackle to dot down, but any hopes of a Falcons comeback were short lived as Lozowski intercepted a lose Joel Hodgson pass to confirm the bonus point.
And Earle grabbed a fifth in the final ten minutes as he broke through a tackle out wide and powered over.
Newcastle were not done though, as Goneva and Wilson score late on to set up a tense finish – but Sarries held on.