Saracens edge Exiles but coach will ask for more

Saracens scrum half Ben Spencer keeps the pressure on London Irish as the champions beat the Exiles. Photograph: Getty
Saracens scrum half Ben Spencer keeps the pressure on London Irish as the champions beat the Exiles. Photograph: Getty
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SARACENS’ defence of the Aviva Premiership is off to a flying start – but director of rugby Mark McCall admits his side must improve for the challenges that lie ahead.

Winless London Irish, undergoing a rebuilding job under new coach Tom Coventry, took a lead into half-time thanks to an Asaeli Tikoirotuma try.

Jackson Wray and Alex Goode crossed after the break and Saracens kept the Exiles at arm’s length for the last 20 minutes, winning 24-14.

But with a Champions Cup clash against Toulouse following hot on the heels of a trip to Aviva Premiership rivals Northampton, McCall is seeking better performances.

He said: “Of course we are pleased to be undefeated after three matches, but we do judge ourselves on our performance levels.

“There were aspects which were OK, but there were aspects we could improve on.

“We seemed to have the ball a lot of the time, I don’t know what the stats will say but we seemed to be in their third and down there a lot without being good enough with it.

“Obviously we missed a few kicks, we missed a few chances along the way and the game was probably closer than it needed to be.

“There was a lot of frustration in the dressing room at half-time.

“We have a huge match in Europe coming up against Toulouse and we have a pretty big game next week against Saints, our squad is pretty healthy at the moment and we need to try and rotate in a sensible fashion.”

The two sides will meet again in March when London Irish host the Aviva Premiership’s first overseas fixture in New York. And Coventry believes his Exiles now have a platform from which to build after proving themselves trouble for the defending champions.

“We finally got our teeth in to something and had something to be proud of. That’s what I said to the boys at half-time, now we are finally playing rugby,” said Coventry.

“It’s been about finding our feet and finding the standard needed to play at this level against the champions, it is pleasing.

“There were a lot of things last week where we didn’t even know where to start so we’ve made a good contribution to where we need to go from here.

“As a team that’s near the bottom or at the bottom we need to find moments like this where we can take those opportunities to grow our game. Today was a good starting point for that.”

A year and a day since Sam Burgess was unveiled as a Bath player, head coach Mike Ford was tight-lipped about the 26-year-old’s rugby future.

England World Cup centre Burgess, who has two years left on his contract with Bath, has been on holiday in Spain since making an appearance as a replacement against Exeter two weeks ago. However, while he has been overseas there has been no end of speculation that a return to rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs is under serious consideration.

Ford, speaking after his side’s shock 38-28 defeat to Harlequins, revealed that he had spoken to Burgess in recent days but would only say: “Hopefully he has (recharged the batteries) and he’ll be back in training on Monday.

“Every player will get time off. In Sam’s case it happened earlier than planned.”

On the defeat by Harlequins, who owed their win to a faultless 28-point haul by fly-half Nick Evans, Ford said: “We’re totally gutted about the performance, especially the discipline side of it.”

Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea again leapt to the defence of England captain Chris Robshaw who made his return in club colours after the World Cup exit.

O’Shea said: “I thought he really grew into the game. He was blowing a bit but he was outstanding. He will prove himself again as the best back row in England. I have no doubt about that. Whether people want to make him captain or not, I don’t care. He is an unbelievable rugby player.”

Meanwhile, Worcester fell to a 24-22 defeat against Gloucester at Kingsholm – they did break out of defence in the final minutes but they could not capitalise.

Cooper Vuna, who crossed twice, and Niall Annett scored the tries for Worcester, with Tom Heathcote converting two and Ryan Mills adding a penalty.

Richard Hibbard, Sione Kalamafoni and David Halaifonua scored tries for Gloucester with Billy Twelvetrees kicking three penalties.