Round-up: Saracens face few problems in emphatic win

Northampton edge win in tight contest with Scarlets

Toulouse players take part in a minutes silence in honour of the Paris Attacks before the European Champions Cup, pool one match at Allianz Park Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

Toulouse players take part in a minutes silence in honour of the Paris Attacks before the European Champions Cup, pool one match at Allianz Park Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

 

Saracens 32-7 Toulouse

Saracens encountered few problems as they launched their European Champions Cup campaign with an emphatic victory over French heavyweights Toulouse at Allianz Park.

England star Owen Farrell kicked 17 points as Saracens beat the four-time European champions 32-7, with wing Chris Wyles scoring two tries and prop Mako Vunipola also touching down.

Less than 24 hours after the horrifying Paris terror attacks that left more than 120 dead, it unsurprisingly looked as though the Toulouse players’ minds were elsewhere.

They were the only French team in Champions Cup action this weekend, with games scheduled to be hosted by Racing 92, Oyonnax, Bordeaux-Begles and Toulon all postponed by tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby and French domestic rugby chiefs Ligue Nationale de Rugby.

But there was still a game to be won, and English champions Saracens — beaten European finalists last year — took immediate charge of Pool One through a dominant display before heading to Belfast next Friday for an appointment with Ulster.

Their only source of frustration was a failure to claim the maximum five points, given that Wyles claimed Saracens’ third try after just 42 minutes.

But they could still take satisfaction from inflicting a heaviest European Cup defeat on Toulouse since Ulster beat them 30-3 in 2006, with the visitors managing a try from substitute hooker Christopher Tolofua that scrum-half Sebastien Bezy converted.

Several Toulouse players were close to tears during a minute’s silence before kick-off, which was followed by the French national anthem — La Marseillaise — that rang out on a wet and windy evening in north London.

Despite the conditions, Saracens wasted little time moving through the gears, and they built a 13-0 lead inside 15 minutes.

Farrell kicked two short-range penalties, then the Saracens forwards powered deep into Toulouse territory before creating enough space and time for Mako Vunipola to charge over from close range for a try that Farrell converted.

Toulouse could not get out of their own half, pinned back by a combination of impressive Saracens approach play and their own poor discipline that referee George Clancy readily punished.

Farrell kicked two more penalties during a three-minute spell as Saracens went 19 points clear after 25 minutes, but it got even worse for the visitors as half-time approached.

Toulouse’s former Saracens prop Census Johnston was sin-binned for a technical offence at a lineout and with the visitors temporarily down to 14 men, Farrell booted another penalty before the home side added a second try.

Slick midfield passing proved too much for Toulouse to cope with and United States World Cup captain Wyles finished impressively in the corner, giving Saracens an unassailable 27-point interval advantage and threatening one of Toulouse’s heaviest defeats in almost 20 years of European rugby.

There was no respite for Toulouse early in the second period as Saracens punished them again within two minutes of the restart, Wyles touching down wide out after Farrell drove him over the line.

The visitors managed a 51st-minute consolation try when Tolofua touched down and Bezy added the extras.

The final 20 minutes were all about whether or not Saracens could claim a try bonus point, but there was a general lack of continuity after rugby director Mark McCall made several substitutions while Toulouse also toughened up defensively.

Saracens ultimately had to settle for four points, but they are off and running in Europe once again, suggesting they will continue to set the standard among England’s Champions Cup representatives.

Northampton 15-11 Scarlets

Northampton got their European Champions Cup campaign off to a successful start with a nervy 15-11 win over Scarlets at Franklin’s Gardens.

Ken Pisi and Alex Waller scored tries for the Saints with JJ Hanrahan kicking a penalty and a conversion although Scarlets kept in touch — and were ahead at one point in the second half — throughout thanks to Steven Shingler’s two penalties and Gareth Davies’ score. However, the visitors were left to rue four missed kicks at goal as they began Pool 3 with a narrow defeat.

After an error-ridden opening, Saints took a sixth-minute lead with an excellent try. From a scrum 25 metres out, Hanrahan brushed past some weak Scarlets tackling to send in Pisi for the first score.

Scarlets responded with incisive breaks from Gareth Davies and DTH van der Merwe to put the home defence on the back foot and when the Saints were penalised, Shingler knocked over the easy kick.

Minutes later, Shingler had another penalty chance but was off target before Saints produced a breathtaking 80-metre movement, which ended with Luther Burrell crossing the try-line to capitalise on Pisi’s fantastic burst.

Scarlets grabbed the next score with a Shingler penalty but they still trailed 7-6 at the interval. Two minutes after the restart, Scarlets had a chance to take the lead but Shingler’s attempt was nowhere near but nine minutes later the visitors were ahead with a great try.

Dickson’s clearance kick was collected by Aled Thomas, who breached the opposition defence to send Davies racing 30 metres and over the line. Shingler’s conversion attempt rebounded back off a post.

Scarlets’ lead did not last for long as Waller finished off a line-over drive to give the hosts a 12-11 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

With 12 minutes remaining Hanrahan kicked a penalty to give his side some breathing space before Thomas missed a penalty for Scarlets, which coupled with the return of Gibson, allowed the Saints to hang on.

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