Vunipola spares Sarries' blushes
A last-minute try by Billy Vunipola from a driving maul saved Saracens' unbeaten record just as a rejuvenated London Irish had seemed set to pull off a remarkable Aviva Premiership victory.
Sarries - eventual 36-32 winners - had appeared in total control after 30 minutes, leading 20-7, before they were stunned by the enterprise of the home side, who outscored them by four to three on the try count.
Irish's flying wing Alex Lewington was their hero, scoring a hat-trick of tries. Blair Cowan was the other man to touch down, with the impressive Shane Geraghty kicking two penalties and three conversions.
Richard Wigglesworth, Tim Streather and Vunipola were the Saracens try-scorers, with Owen Farrell kicking three penalties and two conversions. Alex Goode kicked two second-half penalties, but missed with two late attempts which had the visitors' nerves jangling.
Charlie Hodgson wrapped up the scoring by converting Vunipola's match-winning try.
Irish made only two changes to their starting line-up after last week's win at Newcastle. Jebb Sinclair and Luke Narraway were included in the pack, replacing Dan Leo and Tom Guest, who both dropped down to the bench.
Saracens made wholesale changes from last week's thrashing of Harlequins, with Jim Hamilton given a first Premiership start for the club and Ernst Joubert returning after injury.
The visitors were ahead after only 50 seconds. Vunipola charged forward to set up the platform for Wigglesworth and Goode to carve the home defence apart, creating a try for Streather.
Farrell converted and minutes later kicked a penalty as a long afternoon for Irish seemed on the horizon.
Despite this, Irish responded with an excellent try, courtesy of two pieces of magic from Geraghty. First he cleverly chipped over the defence for Fergus Mulchrone to collect and feed Scott Steele. He was hauled down just short of the line, but the ball was swiftly recycled for Geraghty to send Cowan over with a superbly timed pass.
Geraghty converted the try, but Farrell extended the visitors' lead with his second penalty to leave Saracens 13-7 in front at the end of the first quarter.
Three minutes later, the visitors scored their second try when, following a ruck on the home 22, Wigglesworth spotted a gap to run 25 metres for the score, which Farrell converted.
Irish would not lie down, though. They contributed fully to a pulsating first half-hour and were rewarded with another skilfully created try. This time a well-judged cross-field kick from Chris Noakes was gathered by Lewington, who skipped past two defenders for the score, which Geraghty converted.
Irish suffered a blow when flanker Ofisa Treviranus left the field with an injury to be replaced by Kieran Low, but it did not stop their momentum as Lewington raced on to a chip ahead from Steele to score his second try to momentarily stun Saracens.
Geraghty missed the conversion before Farrell kicked another penalty to give Saracens a 23-19 half-time advantage.
Geraghty soon reduced that lead to one point with his first penalty before Irish went ahead for the first time as Lewington completed his hat-trick. Once again, Steele kicked ahead with Lewington reacting quicker than any of the three Saracens defenders to race away for the try which Geraghty converted.
Goode kicked two penalties for the visitors to tie up the scores at 29-29 at the end of the third quarter before Geraghty restored his side's lead with a further penalty.
Goode missed an easy penalty chance for Saracens, as did Geraghty with two attempts from the halfway line, before late on Goode again missed with another simple opportunity before Vunipola's late effort, converted by Hodgson, broke Irish hearts.