A final two-leg shootout still awaits but the chances of Saracens not being promoted from the Championship in June look slimmer, on this evidence, than their football neighbours, Barnet, joining a new European Super League. There was only ever one winner, with the previously unbeaten Ealing Trailfinders given a five-try reminder of the old adage about class being permanent.
The visitors may have won all their previous six games with a bonus point but, despite two pre-season wins against the erstwhile European champions, this was a significantly stronger and more motivated Sarries combination, with Owen Farrell kicking 23 points and Elliot Daly looking in excellent nick back in his preferred position of outside centre.
With the British & Irish Lions squad due to be named on Thursday week, the one-sided outcome further backed up the belief of Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby, that his leading players will be in better shape to tour than some of their counterparts from the other home unions. “Our players are getting more rugby than the Welsh, Scottish and Irish. They’re hardly playing at all,” said McCall. “I don’t think our players will be undercooked in any way.
“Fingers crossed they can finish their domestic season with a couple of really important, meaningful playoff matches. These games are physical. Ealing, in my opinion, are a mid-table Premiership team.”
As it happens it is also McCall’s belief, as rugby’s ring-fencing debate intensifies again, that ambitious Championship sides should be able to aspire to the highest level. “My own view is there should be an incentive,” he said. “If a club is good enough and have got the appetite and resources – which I think Ealing are and have – then they shouldn’t be deprived an opportunity to step up a league.”
In the shorter term, though, Saracens are going to take an awful lot of stopping with their Championship destiny now, in McCall’s words, “back in our own hands” following their opening round blip against the Cornish Pirates in Penzance. The outcome was effectively settled long before the end with a rattled Ealing conceding penalty after penalty and finishing up with 13 men following two late yellow cards.
It made for a sharply contrasting vibe to seven weeks ago when Saracens were being scuttled by the Pirates. This weekend the latter lost at home to Ampthill while Sarries’ forwards were similarly unrecognisable from the plodders who lost the plot at Mennaye Field. Vincent Koch, among those whose reputations suffered a dent in Cornwall, contributed two tries, with Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje proving as formidable as might have been anticipated.
Nor did it help Ealing that a combination of nerves and a stiff breeze hampered their efforts to make an early impact. While the first three scrums of the game all went against the home side, the visitors seemed initially over-awed to be rubbing shoulders with so many household names and it felt like an ominous omen when Craig Willis’s first penalty shot at goal drifted wide .
Saracens needed no further encouragement, a clinical attack producing an 11th-minute try wide on the right for the wing Alex Lewington, excellently converted by Farrell.
With the England captain also landing a couple of penalties and converting a short-range twisting 24th-minute score from Koch, his side were 20-6 up inside the first 25 minutes.
Some kind of response was required and arrived courtesy of a well-executed driven maul which was dragged down and cost Saracens a penalty try and the loss of their flanker Jackson Wray to the sin-bin.
A third Farrell penalty, though, extended the half-time margin to 23-13 and placed the onus on Ealing to rewrite the looming script.
Try as they might the west Londoners could not do so. Two more Farrell penalties stretched the lead and, with Wray restored, the Sarries pack once again made their territorial pressure count with Koch grasping a loose ball to score again. The best try of the lot, sparked by quick thinking and excellent spatial awareness from Farrell, saw Aled Davies race half the length of the pitch to score despite wearing only one boot. It was the sort of day when, even bare-footed, Sarries’ grip remained reliably sure.