Saracens reclaim Aviva Premiership top spot after beating Newcastle
Saracens moved back to the top of the Aviva Premiership table with a 38-3 win over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
Mark McCall's side were made to fight hard for their victory, which takes them back to top spot ahead of Exeter and maintains their 100 per cent record.
Charlie Hodgson led the way with a 21-point haul for Sarries, including a second half try, while Sam Vunisa, Billy Vunipola and Nick Tompkins also dotted down.
But the clash, watched by new England head coach Eddie Jones, was dour and Saracens will feel fortunate to collect a try bonus point after two of their tries came in the last two minutes.
Newcastle had a slight edge in the opening exchanges, but Saracens first real foray produced a penalty that Hodgson kicked for the corner.
The Saracens pack used the resulting lineout as a platform to demonstrate, with brutal efficiency, the way to execute a catch and drive. Number eight Vunisa touched down and Hodgson's conversion went over off a post to make it 7-0 after 10 minutes.
Newcastle scrum-half Micky Young twice prevented tries, falling on a loose ball after a wild Alex Tait pass and then from a kick through by Hodgson, who later made it 10-0 by slotting a penalty in the 19th minute.
Vunisa's clumsy offside at a Falcons driving maul gave Tom Catterick the chance to get Newcastle on the board in the 24th minute and he made no mistake.
Almost immediately, Newcastle conceded a penalty from the restart and Saracens went for a repeat of the driving line-out but this time the Falcons stopped them short and turned the ball over to relieve the pressure.
Both sides were reluctant to move the ball wide and as a result it became a tactical kicking exchange from then on.
It was Newcastle who blinked first, with Young missing touch to put Saracens on the front foot. From a resulting maul, George McGuigan was caught straying offside and Hodgson slotted the penalty from 45 metres to make it 13-3 at the interval.
There was little change in the tactics early in the second half with both sides perhaps overdoing the box kick.
Newcastle continued to stand firm, though, denying Saracens a driving try for the second time in the match by conceding a line-out in the corner. Saracens looked destined to score, but the Falcons pack halted the line-out drive and then turned the ball over to win a scrum and then a free kick to clear their lines.
Two big runs by Maro Itoje made a difference, forcing Newcastle on to the back foot and drawing the offside that allowed Hodgson to knock over his third penalty in the 55th minute.
Saracens delivered the killer blow in the 62nd minute with Tompkins' try.
Vunisa's pulverising run was backed up by Itoje and after Saracens skipper Jamie George fell just short of the line Tompkins snapped up the ball to roll over the bodies and score.
For the second time Hodgson converted via the post and then added a 74th minute penalty to make it 26-3.
The veteran fly-half capped off his own performance by intercepting just outside his own 22 and racing away for Saracens' third try in the 79th minute.
In stoppage time Vunipola crashed over after a quickly taken penalty and Alex Goode added the late conversion to secure the try-scoring bonus point.