Strettle brace seals Sarries win
Saracens ground out a 22-6 victory over London Irish at a wet and windy Allianz Park to stay in touch with Aviva Premiership pacesetters Northampton and Bath.
A brace of tries from David Strettle and four penalties from Owen Farrell did the damage, while London Irish could only muster six points from the boot of Tom Homer in reply.
The last few clashes between these sides have been tense affairs, with the Exiles securing a shock 22-13 victory on their previous visit to Allianz Park back in February, while Sarries required a late Billy Vunipola try to seal a 36-32 win at the Madejski Stadium in September.
Homer and Ben Ransom had busy shifts, with both full-backs fielding a raft of high kicks in the wind and driving rain.
Homer was given the chance to give his side the lead in the 18th minute after Saracens skipper Alistair Hargreaves was penalised for going offside side at ruck time but his long-range penalty effort dropped short and wide.
Farrell fired over the first points of the game with a 22nd minute penalty after relentless pressure from the home side forced the Exiles offside, with Vunipola and Jackson Wray to the fore during the raid.
Shane Geraghty was showing plenty of deft touches with ball in hand, but the former Northampton fly-half made a costly error when he kicked the ball dead 60 metres from the Sarries line as he misjudged the wind and the 3G pitch.
The Saracens pack duly punished Geraghty's error as they bulldozed the London Irish forwards at the ensuing scrum. Farrell made no mistake from the tee to double his side's lead.
Brian Smith's men found themselves under huge pressure straight from the kick-off as Ransom's grubber kick was then hacked on by Chris Wyles, forcing Eamonn Sheridan to kick the ball dead and hand the rampant home pack an attacking scrum five metres out from London Irish's try-line.
The Sarries front-row put the squeeze on and, after Vunipola made big metres off the base, quick hands from Neil de Kock, Farrell and Nick Tompkins released Strettle in the right corner for a superbly-executed try. Farrell failed with the difficult touchline conversion as his team stormed to a 11-0 lead.
Homer finally got the visitors on the scoreboard when he fired over a three-pointer in the 43rd minute after George Kruis was penalised for interfering with Exiles lock Nic Rouse during an attacking lineout.
Homer made it 11-6 from the tee two minutes later after Exiles winger Alex Lewington, who scored a hat-trick against Saracens in September, made a scorching break down the left touchline.
Farrell extended his side's lead with a 51st-minute penalty after Ransom's scything break forced the Exiles offside once more.
Vunipola was having a monstrous game and another powerful carry from the England number eight forced yet another Exiles infringement which Farrell duly punished to push Sarries out to a 17-6 lead.
Mark McCall's side were in complete control at this stage with Strettle showing great feet to cross in the right corner to complete his brace after great hands from Kruis, Farrell, Duncan Taylor and Ransom in the build-up.
Saracens launched attack after attack on the tiring visitors but failed to add a third touchdown in the final quarter.