Saracens returned to the top of the Guinness Premiership as they recovered from an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat Worcester at Wembley.
Sarries looked on course for a third straight league defeat when they conceded a penalty try to go 20-12 behind in the 47th minute, and by that stage they were down to 14 men following Carlos Nieto’s sin-binning. But they completed a marvellous recovery in front of 40,163 spectators at the home of football, fly-half Glen Jackson finishing with six successful penalties from seven attempts while also converting Neil de Kock’s 57th-minute try.
It was Saracens’ third win of the season at Wembley – they have also beaten Northampton and world champions South Africa here – making it a successful return to what is fast becoming their second home. Leicester will, however, reclaim top spot if they beat Leeds away on Sunday, while Worcester stay second-bottom despite their losing bonus point.
The visitors were the first team to take points off Saracens this season when the pair drew 12-12 at Sixways in November.
The Warriors have arguably been better than their position in the table suggests and they started well here, penning Brendan Venter’s men back in their half and earning two penalties that Willie Walker slotted over in the third and eighth minutes. Livewire winger Chris Pennell was held up inches short just before Walker’s second three-pointer, and with centre Sam Tuitupou causing havoc with his midfield runs, the Warriors were dominant.
Sarries finally got a grip and they levelled at 6-6 thanks to two Jackson penalties, conceded by the visitors at the breakdown. But Worcester went back in front in the 25th minute following a sloppy error by Sarries scrum-half De Kock. The South African’s clearance from his own in-goal area was hit too low and was charged down by Kai Horstmann, the ball rebounding to Tom Wood who pounced to ground for the try.
Walker added the extras to make it three from three from the boot and although Jackson did likewise with a 31st-minute penalty to make it 13-9, Saracens knew they had been very much second best as they trudged back to the dressing room for half-time.
They had not come close to the Warriors try-line in the first half but Jackson’s penalties were keeping them in it and he added a fourth two minutes into second period to gnaw further into the deficit. A swashbuckling 25-yard run by Worcester winger Miles Benjamin ended with him held up over the line by fellow England Saxon Alex Goode, but the away side were not to be denied.
From the resulting scrum, Sarries conceded two penalties, leading to substitute Nieto being sent to the sin-bin. Worcester opted against a kick at goal in favour of an attacking scrum and when that was halted illegally by a retreating Sarries pack, referee Dave Pearson ran out of patience and awarded a penalty try. Walker converted and it looked the beginning of the end for Sarries. They had other ideas, however.
Jackson landed a fifth penalty before Saracens went over for their first try, Goode booting ahead 50 yards before collecting his own kick, offloading to Chris Wyles who in turn laid on De Kock for a length-of-the-field, 57th-minute score. Jackson converted and then added a sixth penalty, in the 71st minute, to put his team 25-20 up.
The last few minutes were tense as Worcester charged forward in search of a try but Sarries defended for their lives. In the Warriors’ last attack, they turned the ball over and following a clash between the big men in the two packs, Greg Rawlinson saw yellow. Jackson missed a last-gasp penalty to blot his copybook but it mattered little as Saracens held on.