London Irish 32, Saracens 10 (result)
London Irish posted their first Premiership win of the season - and brought Saracens’ unbeaten start to a grinding halt - by inflicting a Madejski Stadium mauling on Kyran Bracken’s men.
Irish out-scored their opponents four to one on tries - fly-half Barry Everitt, wing Paul Sackey, skipper Ryan Strudwick and flanker Kieron Dawson touching down - as the Exiles bounced back following successive league defeats against Bath and Leeds.
Saracens’ 100% record collapsed emphatically. Had points been awarded for territorial dominance, then they might have conceded a half-century, such was Irish’s control.
Bracken and company defended resolutely, but Saracens were starved of worthwhile possession and repeatedly found themselves on the back foot.
Sackey’s score - a brilliant solo finish to a stunning 90-metre counter-attack - was the highlight of a fiercely-fought encounter, while Everitt also added 12 points from the boot, and could even afford three missed kicks as Irish claimed a try-scoring bonus.
Irish finished a man short when full-back Michael Horak was sin-binned by referee Chris White for killing possession but Saracens were too exhausted to exploit his absence.
Saracens, showing several changes from the side that beat Bath last weekend, had French star Thomas Castaignede and goal-kicking fly-half Andy Goode among their substitutes as coach Wayne Shelford made an early statement about monitoring his players’ welfare during English rugby’s marathon nine-month season.
Initial exchanges were fast and hard, with rival centres Geoff Appleford and Ben Johnston – England’s midfield pairing in Argentina three months ago – both requiring treatment after being on the receiving end of some ferocious tackling.
Nicky Little booted Saracens into an 11th-minute lead, landing a penalty from almost 50m, but Irish, having dominated territorially, levelled through an Everitt strike nine minutes later.
Relentless pressure in and around the Saracens 22 eventually had to tell, and Irish broke through when slick inter-passing between number eight Chris Sheasby, the Exiles’ ex-Springbok wing Pieter Rossouw and Everitt created an opening that Everitt gratefully exploited.
Everitt, the Premiership’s top points scorer last season, easily converted before Saracens enjoyed a monumental let-off when Irish prop Neal Hatley blissfully ignored a two-man overlap, went for glory himself and knocked on after Saracens full-back Adryan Winnan tackled him.
Hatley’s selfishness cost Irish a certain try, yet Saracens could not escape from deep inside their own half as they continued to mount a desperate defensive rearguard action.
Everitt helped Saracens’ cause by missing two penalty attempts but Irish finished the first-half in scintillating style.
Saracens enjoyed a rare stint within sight of the Irish line but they inexplicably lost possession and immediately found themselves retreating at a rate of knots.
Irish had the confidence to spin possession wide, and such bold adventure paid off handsomely. Sackey sprinted clear, gathered his own kick ahead and then stretched away by finishing off a sensational move.
Everitt’s conversion attempt rebounded off the post but Saracens were grateful to troop off just 15-3 adrift at half-time.
Despite the 12-point deficit, Shelford resisted any temptation to make early substitutions, and still would not be swayed when Everitt kicked his second penalty on 42 minutes.
Goode arrived after Irish collected their third try - Strudwick powering over from close range - but there was little the former Leicester number 10 could do to stem the tide, even after Exiles’ rampaging back-row man Sheasby limped off injured.
Irish secured a bonus point in the final minute of normal time, Dawson gathering a bouncing ball and dashing 20m to score, complete with celebratory dive.
It was the final blow for Saracens, who could have absolutely no complaints, even though they had the last word when centre Kevin Sorrell grabbed a consolation try, converted by Goode.