Saracens continued their pursuit of champions and Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Leicester with a win over Newcastle that keeps them in second place.
But having made a sizzling start with an early try, Saracens made very hard work of seeing off a team fighting for survival at the other end of the table. At one stage, the scoreline stood at 11-9 with 27 minutes to play. But despite a gutsy rearguard action, and some fine goal-kicking by Jimmy Gopperth, the Geordies left Vicarage Road empty-handed.
Newcastle put the kick-off straight out then collapsed the resultant scrum on half-way, all inside 45 seconds. Saracens took another scrum and after it went down again, Alex Goode fired wide from the penalty. There was no surprise when Saracens took the lead on six minutes. James Short scored the game’s first try on the left after a Goode’s break up the wing and neat pass inside to Chris Wyles.
Gopperth had an opportunity to get Newcastle on the scoreboard when Saracens offended at a scrum on halfway, but his penalty attempt sailed wide of the near post. Goode was more successful with the boot on 17 minutes, firing over a penalty awarded for offside.
Newcastle were forced to defend for long periods, but did so effectively because, for all their possession and territory, Saracens failed repeatedly to produce a scoring finish. A third miss from four shots at goal by Goode in the 32nd minute did not help the home side’s cause. In fact their lead was reduced when Gopperth finally got Newcastle in the hunt with a penalty for offside in the 34th minute.
The first half, punctuated by endless reset scrums, ended with a change of home kicker as Owen Farrell took over from Goode – and promptly delivered with a 40-metre shot on the stroke of half-time.
Newcastle made a strong start to the second half, Gopperth scoring their second penalty just four minutes in. Saracens stormed back and won a scrum in front of the visitors’ posts, but attacking wide left, skipper Steve Borthwick knocked-on and wasted the opportunity.
Newcastle, good at making the most out of little, cut the scoreline again on 53 minutes following another careless offside. Gopperth clipped over his third penalty. But the margin was widened again within minutes when Farrell boomed a long-range effort from the halfway line.
Saracens were showing signs of rustiness following their three-week lay-off but they got an opening on 61 minutes when Ally Hogg was sin-binned for ball-killing. This time Farrell’s ambitious effort from half-way faded away to the right. The 20-year-old made no mistake in the 67th minute, steering home a penalty awarded for Newcastle charging into a ruck from the side.
The game was up for the visitors when Noah Cato made a thundering surge for their line on the left. It took three defenders to halt the wing, and Saracens took advantage of the gaps to send Jared Saunders in for their second try, with Farrell converting.