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Charlie Hodgson scored all of his side’s points to inspire Saracens to victory at the Kassam Stadium, but they had to withstand a late London Welsh fight back which fell agonisingly short.
With nine minutes remaining and Saracens pressing to add to their 25-13 lead, the Exiles would no doubt have happily accepted a losing bonus point had it being offered to them.
In the end, however, the home side were left to rue how close they’d come to claiming a third league win of the season and taking another huge step towards Premiership survival.
Phil MacKenzie hacked on to give Welsh the early lead but Hodgson’s penalty and converted try edged the visitors in front.
Hodgson added three more penalties before the half was out with Gavin Henson replying with two of his own to leave Saracens leading 19-13 at the break.
Penalties five and six for Hodgson turned the screw further on Welsh, but a Henson penalty was followed by an excellent try from Tom Arscott. Henson’s conversion left just two points between the sides, only for Hodgson’s seventh penalty to leave the home side needing a converted try to snatch victory.
They came close to grabbing it, though, in the game’s dying moments, scrummaging two late penalties, only for time to run out with the Exiles seemingly poised to produce a fairytale finish.
Keen to bounce back from their defeat to Gloucester, losing captain Jonathan Mills to a fourth minute yellow card wasn’t part of the plan. Mills binned for going through a Saracens lineout.
But it was the home side that struck. A loose pass was hacked on by MacKenzie and the Canadian international sprinted clear to score. Gavin Henson added the extras.
The Exiles might have extended the lead further, but Henson’s attempt from inside his own half dipped underneath the crossbar.
Hodgson saw his first penalty come back off the post, but although Mills would return to the field with the Exiles not having conceded in his absence, he would do so just as Hodgson teed up his next attempt from in front of the posts. He wouldn’t miss.
Welsh were struggling to get their hands on the ball and Saracens made their early dominance tell when Hodgson darted through a gap to score. The number ten added converted his own try and then added a penalty.
Henson replied immediately for Welsh but the penalty count against the home side was rising and Hodgson struck twice more to extend the away side’s lead to 19-10. A late Henson riposte ensured Welsh remained within touching distance.
A scrappy start to the second half was almost brought to an abrupt end by a third try for Saracens. Welsh never quite managed to repair the damage following James Short’s initial break, but were given a let off as Andy Saull dropped the ball as he went over the line.
Two further strikes from Hodgson edged Saracens into a 25-13 lead and the game seemed to be slipping away from Welsh. Henson replied with his third penalty but Saracens were playing the percentage game, and doing it well.
Welsh did well to escape a sustained period of pressure on their own line, and indeed threatened after breaking through Seb Jewell, but MacKenzie’s pass couldn’t find Ed Jackson.
It signified a momentum shift, though, and indeed it seemed inconceivable that despite an indifferent display from the home side the game would peter out without Welsh conjuring a late rally.
They did just that with six minutes remaining. Henson’s floated miss pass released Nick Scott and the winger combined with MacKenzie to send Arscott over.
Henson converted and Welsh had victory in their sights. Crucially, however, the Exiles conceded a penalty at the restart and Hodgson did the rest. That left Welsh needing a converted try and late pressure yielded two penalties, which the home side opted to scrum.
To no avail. When the scrum collapsed referee Luke Pearce blew for full-time to leave Welsh frustrated.
Tries: MacKenzie, Arscott; Cons: Henson (2); Pens: Henson (3).
Tries: Hodgson; Cons: Hodgson; Pens: Hodgson (7).
Referee: Luke Pearce
Referee Assistants: Paul Dix & Nigel Carrick