Saracens debutant Chris Ashton stole the show with a villain to hero two-try display as his new side kicked off their Aviva Premiership campaign in style by beating London Irish 40-3 in the London Double Header at Twickenham.
Ashton – who joined from Northampton in the summer – was in his new fans’ bad books in the first half when he was sin-binned for a late tackle on Steve Shingler.
However that transgression was quickly forgotten after the break as he crossed for two debut scores in a Sarries jersey and produced a moment of brilliance to set up a Brad Barritt for another.
The England wing’s heroics were the catalyst for a ruthless display by last year’s beaten Aviva Premiership semi-finalists which featured 17 points from Charlie Hodgson and a bonus-point sealing score from Nils Mordt.
Having retired from international duty after the tour to South Africa fly-half Hodgson was as impressive as ever with the boot as he took his tally of Aviva Premiership points over the 2000 mark – cementing his position as the league’s all-time top scorer.
The Exiles’ only points on a tough afternoon at Twickenham came from the boot of Tom Homer in the first half.
Saracens looked to have got the perfect possible start early on when skipper Steve Borthwick crossed under the posts however Mako Vunipola’s crucial pass was adjudged forward by the television match official.
However they didn’t have to wait long to open the scoring with a Hodgson penalty on six minutes before a yellow card for Ofisa Treviranus gave them a further boost.
The Samoan flanker was penalised for tackling Hodgson without his arms and, with the Sarries No. 10 reeling from the hit, Alex Goode took over on the kicking tee to make it 6-0.
The Exiles were given something of a boost on 18 minutes when debutant Ashton went the same way as Treviranus – after a late tackle on Shingler – but the usually dead-eyed Homer was off colour.
The full-back’s penalty on 21 minutes to make it 6-3 was a first success after three misses but it was Hodgson who was indisputably winning the first-half battle of the boot.
Two more three pointers took the former England fly-half past the 2000 point marker in the Aviva Premiership.
Four minutes into the second half Sarries stretched their lead when Ashton banished the memories of his first-half sin-binning with the opening try of the game.
Fellow wing Chris Wyles provided the try-scoring pass after a flowing move and the former Northampton Saints star had his first score in Sarries colours.
Fly-half Hodgson added the extras to make it 19-3 to leave the Exiles a mountain to climb. Things went from bad to worse for Irish after 49 minutes when Ashton was again to the fore in Sarries’ second score.
Clever interplay put the England winger in the clear and his quick-thinking touch pass released his Red Rose colleague Barritt to cross from close range.
Hodgson added the conversion again to take his personal tally to 17 points and, after Ashton had scored his second, Sarries sealed a bonus point with replacement Mordt’s try.