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Strettle genius clinches Saracens success

03 Apr 2011
Strettle genius clinches Saracens success

Matt Stevens helped bang a nail into Bath’s Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off hopes with a man of the match display as Saracens tightened their grip on second place with a 20-9 victory.

Stevens faced his former club for the first time since leaving the Recreation Ground. The resurgent England prop is rebuilding his career at Saracens where he has impressed in his eight appearances to date, including a star turn on Sunday that can only improve his chances of going to the World Cup.

Bath viewed this match as a must-win if they were to reignite their ambition of reaching the play-offs after last weekend's thumping by Leicester. But even with games in hand on most of their rivals, this outcome means they are highly unlikely to finish in the top four.

Saracens, however, seem destined for home advantage in the play-offs after emerging convincing winners from an attritional encounter. The victory has seen them amass 29 points from seven games and they have timed their run into the business end of the season perfectly.

Winger David Strettle enjoyed a lively afternoon and scored the only try while Alex Goode kicked five penalties, but it was the forwards that did the real damage. Apart from collapsing in the first scrum of the match, Saracens' pack were in control throughout and dominated the final quarter.

Bath fly-half Butch James, who kicked all of his side's points, failed to punish the early error from the home side and Goode was less wasteful shortly after. Saracens cranked up the pressure with Chris Wyles held up over the line. The onslaught continued, however, with only a cruel bounce off Owen Farrell's chip preventing winger James Short from touching down in the left corner.

Goode ended the passage of play with his second penalty and it did not look like Bath's day when a promising spell fell foul of referee Nigel Owens' whistle for offside.

Saracens had controlled much of the half but their supremacy appeared to have slipped in the final 10 minutes when their opponents finally managed to retain possession. A penalty by James saw them rewarded on the scoreboard, but the South African then kicked out on the full, giving Saracens the platform they needed to launch an injury-time assault.

Waves of attacks swept them into the 22 before Strettle, who profited from a classy offload from Stevens, supplied the injection of pace. Hitting the line at speed, he weaved his way between a clutch of defenders before dashing over.

The second half started the way the first had ended with Strettle picking a great line to burst into space, though this time he was tackled as he searched in vain for support.

Bath's commitment meant play was ugly at times, but they continued to be squeezed out of the game. Goode and James exchanged penalties, but Saracens were still in control with centre Shontayne Hape, back from England duty, executing a try-saving tackle on Brad Barritt.

The lead was extended to 20-9 when two Goode penalties, the second arriving after Luke Watson had dithered close to his line, sandwiched three points from James. Matt Banahan ran the length of the pitch in the last minute after picking off an intercept pass, but Owens had spotted an earlier infringement and the England winger was called back, ending Bath's hopes of securing a late bonus point.

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