Saracens 62 Northampton 14
Saracens kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions Cup knock-out phase after demolishing Northampton 62-14 at Allianz Park.
For the third time this season the reigning champions posted 50 points against their Aviva Premiership rivals, who saw their mini-revival grind to a halt a week after humbling Clermont.
The bonus-point win sees Saracens finish second in Pool 2 and they will progress to the quarter-finals if they finish among the three best runners-up when the final round of group matches is completed.
Saracens’ Sean Maitland scores their fifth try at Allianz Park. Photo: Paul Harding/PA
Desperate to preserve their dream of winning a third successive European title, they did everything possible to stay in contention by amassing seven tries against feeble opponents and scoring 27 points through the boot of Owen Farrell.
Apart from the first quarter, Northampton were never in the hunt for a second win of a dismal group campaign. Instead, they leaked their highest number of points in a European game.
A rare mistake by Alex Goode was pounced on by Cobus Reinach as Saints made a try-scoring start.
Harry Mallinder’s chip was spilt forward by Goode just outside the 22 and Reinach scooped the ball up before plotting a mazy path over whitewash.
It set the tone for the first quarter as tries were scored in quick success at each end, Saracens using forward drives after snatching Saints line-out ball to sweep them within inches of the line where Mako Vunipola was able to gather and touch down.
Northampton’s build-up for their response was precise and bold, but was also assisted by some weak tackling until Christian Day offloaded to wing Nafi Tuitavake for an easy run-in.
The see saw continued when a charge by Harlequins-bound Nathan Earle that saw Harry Mallinder swatted aside ended with Goode strolling over.
Earle and Goode were heavily involved as Saracens secured the bonus point six minutes before half-time, racing downfield on the counter-attack until Richard Wigglesworth arrived to take the scoring pass.
The match was out of Northampton’s reach by the interval as they leaked a fifth when Vincent Koch used his leg drive to force his body over moments after Jamie Gibson had been sin-binned for dragging down a maul.
Calum Clark’s decision to ignore an overlap cost Saracens a sixth try, but it followed soon enough when pinpoint handling from the three-quarters sent Sean Maitland racing into the corner.
The 50-point mark was broken when Tonga number eight Sione Vailanu, who was making his club debut as a replacement, powered over from the back of a scrum before Farrell landed two late penalties to improve the points difference.
Clermont 24 Ospreys 7
Clermont are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup as winners of Pool 2 thanks to a 24-7 victory over Ospreys – and bagged a home game in the knock-out stage.
The inability of the Welsh region to turn their first-half pressure into points meant they lost their chance of going through and opened the door for reigning champions Saracens to remain in the hunt for one of the three best runners-up spots.
Ospreys did well to hold out against a ferocious opening from the home side and were fortunate when TMO Stuart Terheege ruled out a try in the sixth minute for wing Remy Grosso for just creeping over the touchline as he dived in at the left corner.
Adam Beard then did well to get through a driving line-out and thwart what seemed an inevitable march for the try-line by the home pack and the fans had to wait until the 25th minute for the first score.
It was the scrum half general Morgan Parra that paved the way for the opening points as he chipped over the top of a ruck on the Ospreys 22 towards the posts.
There was nobody home for the Welsh side as the ball bounced in-goal, but wing Nick Abendanon chased faithfully and just got to the ball for a try. Parra added the simple conversion and then kicked two penalties to give the home side a 13 point lead at the break.
The Ospreys had just missed out on the chance of their first points on the stroke of half-time when Dan Biggar missed his first kick at goal in the tournament this season from the 10 metre line, but the Welsh outside half was at the heart of the move that got the visitors back into the contest just before the hour mark.
New Wales centre Owen Watkin had almost scored moments earlier after a brilliant break, ultimately losing the ball on the line by a steal from Abendanon, but a superb pop pass from Biggar released Scott Baldwin and the hooker’s pass found Ashley Beck on his own wide out on the left.
Beck’s try gave Biggar a massive conversion to try to bring his side within a score of the lead and he duly slotted the kick from the touchline. That made it 13-7 and gave the Ospreys a shot at victory in the last quarter.
A penalty conceded two metres inside their own half by the Ospreys then gave Parra the chance to shoot for goal and he made no mistake with another superb strike that meant the Ospreys had to score twice to win with 10 minute left.
Biggar left the field six minutes from time with his right shoulder in a shirt-sling after being hit hard in a ruck by number eight Fritz Lee. With Rhys Priestland already ruled out of the early rounds of the Six Nations with a hamstring injury, Wales head coach Warren Gatland will be hoping it is not a serious injury.
A Greig Laidlaw penalty after a collapsed scrum and a breakaway try from a turn-over on half-way by Luke McAlister completed a late surge from Clermont.