Saracens revived their title hopes with a crushing victory that pushes Newcastle closer to the relegation zone. And it was the first time this season that Saracens earned a four-try bonus-point.
Saracens welcomed back former England back-row Hugh Vyvyan, who had been out with a knee injury since January 24.
Unbeaten in their first 10 Guinness Premiership fixtures – one drawn – Saracens lost five out of six, dropping from top of the table to third. And having decided to play four ‘home’ games at Wembley Stadium this season, the visit of Newcastle represented the final Vicarage Road fixture, unless they finish in the top two and secure a home play-off semi-final.
Newcastle have been drawn slowly but surely into the relegation morass involving Sale, Leeds and Worcester, and needed points from this game to improve their chances of survival. And they made a sound start when fly-half Jimmy Gopperth scrambled over a scruffy but valid drop-goal in the third minute following a lineout.
Gopperth’s second score three minutes later was far more impressive, a huge penalty, struck from half-way after Saracens offended at a scrum.
Saracens response came within 60 seconds – and it was impressive. Hooker Schalk Brits surged toward the Newcastle posts and either handed-off or sidestepped four opponents before diving over the line for a very fine solo try, converted by Glen Jackson.
Referee Chris White, always hot on breakdown area offences such as going off your feet, penalised Saracens on 11 minutes and Gopperth was again on target. But again, the lead was short-lived as Jackson replied in kind with a well-struck kick from wide out on the left in the 13th minute.
And the home supporters, so often served up pragmatic rugby this season, were treated to a second try in the 15th minute. Running at pace, Adam Powell shrugged off a tepid tackle by Gcobani Bobo before off-loading the perfect pass to his right where Brits was again to be found thundering for the line – and his second try.
Gopperth kept Newcastle in the game with another well-struck goal to complete an action-packed opening quarter. But the ease with which Saracens cut through the visiting defence had to be alarming for their management as Saracens produced a running game not seen from them often this campaign.
In fact, Newcastle were fortunate not to be well adrift at this stage because Jackson missed three penalties in a 10-minute period, with his team dominating proceedings. But they were not to be denied. Andy Saull was denied a try on 35 minutes, forced into touch inches from the line.
But Newcastle lost the lineout, Jackson worked the ball left and it was Saull who barged over between the posts in the 37th minute, Jackson converting. He added a penalty in the final minute of the half, leaving Newcastle with a daunting task.
Gopperth eased that by three points in the 50th minute when Saracens gave away a penalty at the breakdown, but the hosts had dominated the previous 10 minutes, another sustained attack forced Newcastle to concede three points rather than seven as Jackson fired over his sixth successful kick.
Noah Cato then crushed the visitors on the hour, breaking clear on to a loose ball from inside his half and holding off four challenges to score behind the posts. Jackson converted, as he did six minutes later when captain Ernest Joubert intercepted a loose pass from Micky Young and galloped clear.
Jackson’s fifth conversion was soon followed by a sixth as replacement wing Richard Haughton exposed Newcastle’s wet-tissue defence with a run up the right that ended when he dived behind the posts. By now it was a rout, and Joubert scored his second try in injury-time.