First-half frailties dent Saracens title charge

Ross McLean
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SARACENS boss Mark McCall cited an insipid first-half showing as the principal factor in his side’s 31-24 defeat to reigning Premiership champions Northampton Saints at Allianz Park yesterday.

New Zealander James Wilson crossed the line twice for the visitors – who were without international stars Tom Wood, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and George North – while Phil Dowson also touched down as fly-half Stephen Myler kicked 16 points.

The hosts instigated a second-half fightback to claim a losing bonus point following Jackson Wray’s try before the break, with full-back Chris Wyles replying with a double of his own as Charlie Hodgson kicked a total of nine points.

Saracens were able to call upon the services of powerhouse Billy Vunipola after the No8 was dropped by England head coach Stuart Lancaster, but McCall was left unimpressed by the home side’s lack of scrummaging prowess.

“The contrast between the two halves was too big,” said McCall. “The first 25 minutes were unbelievably disappointing. We were second best in almost every area, but in particular the scrum.

“We allowed what happened with the scrum during that 25-minute period to drain us of energy across the board. We weren’t sharp enough or urgent enough and we lacked intensity. Clearly, we were much better second half, much more like ourselves. But the first half was very poor.”

Victory saw Jim Mallinder’s side reclaim top spot in the Premiership table from Exeter Chiefs, who temporarily hit the summit after beating Wasps on Saturday, while Sarries are five points adrift of Northampton in fourth.

London Welsh defence coach Rowland Phillips, meanwhile, insists his side were the architects of their own downfall as a below par Leicester Tigers consigned the winless Exiles to a 26-5 loss at the Kassam Stadium.

Wing Nick Scott crossed the line to give the hosts the lead before a Harry Thacker double turned the tide while Graham Kitchener and Robert Barbieri also powered over. He said: “We defended comfortably but once you concede needless penalties to allow good opposition driving-maul positions then you’ll be in trouble.”