Post-Key era begins with a thumping Leeds loss

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Leeds Carnegie head coach Neil Back insisted this heavy defeat was down to the excellence of Saracens rather than anything to do with the dismissal of rugby director Andy Key during the build-up.

Saracens took the lead in the first minute with a try by Michael Tagicakibau, converted by Alex Goode, and there was only ever going to be one winner thereafter.

Saracens took the maximum five points, scoring four more tries through Brad Barritt, James Short, Richard Wigglesworth and Chris Wyles.

Goode kicked six out of seven, converting four of his team’s tries plus two penalties, as bottom-club Leeds began the post-Key era with a heavy defeat that leaves them three points behind Newcastle.

Back said: “On the back of the news in the week, we had a very good training week. We prepared well, and we looked for an explosive start at Vicarage Road – which is exactly what our opponents achieved.

“It was tough, and we battled hard, but Saracens took their chances well.

“It’s the first time we’ve been ‘nilled’, yet I am pleased with the character we showed against a team full of beans and confidence and taking their chances.

“That was the best defensive display I’ve seen from an opposition all season, which is a tribute to Saracens’ coaching team. They were tremendously well-organised. Our guys were sitting in the dressing room, heads down, very disappointed. But they’re very together as a squad, very determined to succeed.

“People say our next game, against Newcastle, is now even more important. But it doesn’t work that way. Every game we have left is important in our battle to stay in the Premiership.”

Saracens closed the gap on Premiership leaders Leicester back to five points with this crushing five-try win.

They were 14 points clear in as many minutes and never looked back, collecting the maximum five-point haul early in the second half.

Saracens stunned Leeds with a try in the opening minute. Leigh Hinton saw his attempted clearance charged down, the ball rebounded into the in-goal area and centre Tagicakibau won the race to touch down on the left, Goode adding the conversion.

Within six minutes, Leeds were in deep trouble as Saracens rolled a maul towards their line, Wigglesworth whipped the ball to his right and Barritt darted over the line between two defenders.

Leeds did not cross the halfway line until the 15th minute, and that attack was snuffed out by Andy Saull only for Saracens to concede a penalty for a high tackle on Scott Barrow. Adrian Jarvis hooked his kick past the near post from the left wing.

It was a harrowing half for the visitors, who spent most of it fighting a rearguard action and, when Steve Thompson – released from international duty by England manager Martin Johnson – went offside in front of his posts, Goode made no mistake with the penalty.

The full-back was on target again in the 28th minute as Leeds panicked under pressure, and the jitters were evident in some of the basics with passes knocked on and some kicks from hand collected too easily by the home side.

Leeds did get up a head of steam on 32 minutes, forcing a penalty as Saracens tried to pull down a maul. Jarvis went for touch but Leeds then knocked-on behind their own maul and wasted their first genuine scoring position.

It summed up Leeds’s first half when an attempted miss-pass to his left wing by Jarvis was intercepted by James Short on halfway and the wing proved too quick for the chasing pack and scored with a dive by the posts, Goode converting.

Saracens collected the bonus point just six minutes into the second half as Wigglesworth finished off a prolonged series of phases by picking the ball from the back of a ruck, shaping to pass right only to spin between two defenders and score his team’s fourth try from five yards.

Leeds earned a penalty in front of the posts on 64 minutes but instead of getting some points on the board they tapped, ran and were knocked back so emphatically that referee Chris White awarded a penalty to Saracens.

This was not a game Leeds’s England players Thompson and Hendre Fourie will want to remember. Wyles, on the other hand, will remember it for years. The Saracens left wing took a pass from Neil de Kock in midfield, set off for the line and left six opponents trailing as he danced his way to a superb solo try, converted by Goode.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said: “It was important to us to do a very professional job. Our defence was critical.”

Saracens: Goode, Short (Cato 54), Tagicakibau (Penney 54), Barritt, Wyles, Farrell, Wigglesworth (de Kock 54); Gill(Saunders 45), George (Brits 50), Nieto (Stevens 50), Borthwick, Smith (Vyvyan 57), Melck, Saull (Wray 65), Joubert.

Leeds Carnegie: Hinton (Thomas 54), Blackett, Fa’afili, S. Barrow (Burrell 54), Stephenson, Jarvis, Fury (Mathie 54); MacDonald (Hardy 68), Thompson (Nilsen 68), Swainston (Gomez 54), Browne, Wentzel (Craig 50), Myall, Fourie (Rowan 68), To’oala.

Referee: C White (RFU).