Chris Ashton crossed four times to book Saracens’ place in the Premiership semi-finals, and deny retiring Tom May a grand finale in his last match.
Starting the day in fifth, and in a three-way tussle with Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers, Mark McCall’s side did what was required of them to leave the Chiefs the odd ones out.
For London Welsh, it was the final act of a difficult season. Relegation back to the Championship long since confirmed, it was another tough but invaluable 80 minutes against one of the best sides in the land for a Welsh side of which 17 will be part of the club’s quest for a third Championship title next season.
Of course, one of those who won’t be back is captain fantastic, Tom May, who brought the curtain down on a distinguished 17-year playing career.
What he wouldn’t have given to have gone out with a win, and the Exiles did stick with Saracens in the opening 40.
Saracens made their intentions clear in the opening minutes, turning down kickable penalties in their quest for tries. Matt Corker’s yellow card consequence of Saracens’ fast start and Billy Vunipola touched down from a catch and drive. Farrell slotted over the first of his nine conversions.
But Welsh then stunned their visitors. Josh McNally made the initial break before May side-stepped his way through several Saracens’ jerseys and fed Nic Reynolds to go over under the posts. May was engulfed by his teammates. Chris Elder converted.
Welsh, though, couldn’t quite negotiate the remainder of Corker’s sinbinning without conceding, although they came painfully close. As Corker paced the sideline, Saracens attacked down the blindside from a scrum and David Strettle finished well in the corner.
Back to full strength, the Exiles laid siege to the Saracens tryline. For the next four minutes Welsh battered loudly on the door, turning down kickable penalties, but just couldn’t force their way over.
When a further opportunity for points presented itself, this time May had no hesitation in pointing to the posts and Elder did the rest.
Saracens added try number three when they pilfered Welsh lineout ball and Mako Vunipola used his sizable bulk to muscle over under the posts. It gave Saracens daylight, but only fleetingly as it turned out as the Exiles struck back straight from the kick-off – Elder leaping high to claim Barkley’s restart before sauntering away to score. The winger’s conversion kept the home side within four.
What the Exiles wouldn’t have given to have gone in at half-time trailing by that margin, but Ashton forced his way over in the corner from the last play of the half to complete Phase 1 for the visitors, to secure the try bonus point.
Saracens emerged for the second half intent on fulfilling Phase 2 – racking up as many points as they possibly could, while shutting Welsh out at the other end. They achieved both and at times one could only stand and admire some of their sublime attacking play.
In particular, Alex Goode, who racked up a couple of appearances for London Welsh a few years back. His quick tap penalty caught Welsh napping and the full back raced away to set the tone for his teammates.
Another quick tap eventually led to Juan Figallo touching down, while at the other end Elder’s chip forced Goode to concede a five-metre scrum, but the Exiles couldn’t take advantage.
It then became the Chris Ashton show. The winger crossing three times in a devastating five-minute period. The first was the pick of the bunch with Farrell, Goode and Marcelo Bosch slicing through Welsh to tee up Aston.
Goode’s sublime offload created the next, before Ashton added his fourth as Saracens stretched their lead to 61-17. Charlie Hodgson put his foot on the gas to cross in the corner to round things off. It was already enough; Saracens edging out Exeter in the battle for fourth by 20 points.
For Welsh, a return to the Championship but with the knowledge that so many of their squad will have benefited from this experience. It can only make them stronger, hardened and more determined next season.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Reynolds, Elder; Cons: Elder (2); Pens: Elder.
Tries: Ashton (4), Billy Vunipola, Strettle, Mako Vunipola, Goode, Figallo, Hodgson; Cons: Farrell (9).
Referee: Luke Pearce
Touch Judges: Darren Gamage & Nigel Carrick