Saracens stars steamroller Doncaster to keep up hopes of quick return to Premiership

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·5 min read
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Owen Farrell made his first appearance for Saracens since September  - GETTY IMAGES
Owen Farrell made his first appearance for Saracens since September - GETTY IMAGES
  • Doncaster 15-50 Saracens

Doncaster has historically been a convenient half-way house on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh. If Saracens’ Lions hopefuls are to feature for the touring side in the Scottish capital on June 26 then, regardless of this week’s petty Premiership politicking, this rite of passage can be ticked off after a resounding win in South Yorkshire.

England captain Owen Farrell returned to make his first Saracens appearance since September 2020, and his side’s hopes of a swift return to the top division remain alive and well.

The North Londonders arrived locked and loaded with Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako and Billy Vunipola, and Elliot Daly in the starting XV. That was always going to overawe Doncaster, but director of rugby Mark McCall enjoyed the manner in which the overawing came.

“Our senior players were magic today,” McCall said. “I have said in the past couple of weeks how they have come back and embraced this new challenge.

“It didn't look like Farrell [had not played since Sept 5]. He was in control of everything. He got hit late and reacted brilliantly. He did not get frustrated and moved on, playing beautifully. He missed a couple of kicks he wouldn't normally miss but then the old Owen came back. He played really well.

“[The Lions hopefuls] just want to enjoy what we're doing and roll their sleeves up.”

Doncaster were courageous, and they can sleep easily knowing that, despite their inferiority, wing Jack Spittle’s late, length-of-the-field try was as good as anything scored in the match.

Given the presence of Lions coaches Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy, Saracens were never going to take the underdogs for granted. The visitors’ physicality was terrifying, with their defensive wolfpack repelling Doncaster’s attacks with chomp and bite.

Somewhat peculiarly for Saracens, however, it was accuracy that required some early recalibration. Centre Nick Tompkins, on his return to the club, dropped the kick-off; No 8 Billy Vunipola misjudged the collection of a routine box-kick before missing an even more routine tackle; and the visitors’ lineout was clunky. Feisty fly-half Sam Olver gave Doncaster a deserved early lead from the tee.

From then, Saracens’ anaconda grip took hold. Wing Alex Lewington scored the opener after some venomous carries from the Saracens back-row and, by half-time, the bonus point was secured.

Mako Vunipola makes a break during Saracens win over Doncaster - GETTY IMAGES
Mako Vunipola makes a break during Saracens win over Doncaster - GETTY IMAGES

The pick of those four first-half tries came as Scotland wing Sean Maitland beautifully tracked and collected a Farrell grubber. That is a club, international and Lions axis to which the Knights, understandably, had little answer. They had no response, either, to Itoje’s close-range score, nor that of flanker Michael Rhodes, who clung on to a deft Maitland offload for Saracens’ fourth.

No Championship team would have better inside knowledge of Saracens’ England and Lions hopefuls than Doncaster. Olver is the cousin of England flanker Tom Curry; full-back Billy McBryde is the son of Lions forwards coach, Robin; lock Jerry Sexton is the younger brother of Ireland fly-half, Johnny; and their backs are marshalled by Joe Ford, brother of England fly-half George.

Regardless, the second half became a damage-limitation exercise for the Knights. Tompkins burst down the left and put scrum-half Aled Davies in, before Saracens extended their lead with an immaculate first-phase score.

Billy Vunipola and Farrell intertwined and, with more midfield traffic than Spaghetti Junction, Daly carved through. The England three-quarter located Aled Davies inside who added his second.

Having exterminated the potential banana-skin, all of Saracens’ England internationals were replaced before replacement Tom Woolstencroft added another try from a driving maul.

There was enough time for a deserved late Doncaster salvo, though. Replacement Jack Davies barged his way over after the Knights had laid siege to the Saracens line. And two late yellow cards – one to either team – provided an extra metre of space for Spittle’s dazzling late run.

Doncaster’s late rear-guard pleased head coach Steve Boden.

“It shows how tough they were as a group,” he said. “They stuck to their plan. They love the physical side of the game but we just got beaten by some quality today.”

Replacement scrum-half Tom Whiteley’s late try ensured the visitors had the final say. For Saracens' crusade to promotion, all roads lead to next Sunday's trip to league-leaders Ealing. For the club's Lions hopefuls, however, the end goal is 400 miles away, at Murrayfield.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 3-0 Olver pen (10 mins); 3-5 Lewington try (13); 3-10 Maitland try (21); 3-15 Itoje try (32); 3-20 Rhodes try (37); 3-22 Farrell con (38); 3-27 A Davies try (47); 3-29 Farrell con (48); 3-34 A Davies try (50); 3-36 Farrell con (51); 3-41 Woolstencroft try (66); 3-43 M Vunipola con (67); 8-43 Jack Davies try (73); 10-43 McBryde con (74); 15-43 Spittle try (74); 15-48 Whiteley try (80); 15-50 M Vunipola con (80).
HT: 3-22

Doncaster: B McBryde, K Evans, C Foley, C Edwards, J Spittle, S Olver (J Newey 62), G Warr (J Mitchell 48); C Cade (J Pieterse 75), B Hunter (G Roberts 51), A Foster (J Jones 43), M Challinor (c) (W Britton 48), J Sexton (M Smith 49), C Joyce, S Graham (J Davies 60), G Volpi.
Yellow card: J Mitchell (65)

Saracens: E Obatoyinbo, A Lewington, E Daly (D Morris 62), N Tompkins, S Maitland, O Farrell (c) (Manu Vunipola 52), A Davies (T Whiteley 60); Mako Vunipola (R Barrington 55), J George (T Woolstencroft 52), V Koch (A Clarey 52), M Itoje (C Hunter-Hill 60), T Swinson, M Rhodes, S Reffell, B Vunipola (A Christie 52).
Yellow card: S Reffell (73)

Referee: Ian Tempest