CONNACHT’S PERFORMANCE WAS tireless and purposeful, but the grim reality is that Saracens escaped from the Sportsground armed with a vital Heineken Cup Pool three victory.
Resilient and resourceful Connacht might have been, but Saracens just had enough savvy to eke out a win which sets them up nicely for next Friday’s Wembley tussle with Toulouse.
All substance and style, initially, Saracens caused the locals’ significant bother with Owen Farrell providing plenty of subtlety at fly-half.
Farrell’s velvet hands crafted two early tries for the vibrant visitors, who settled impressively before Connacht thundered back into the contest.
It was that sort of utterly passionate and fiery night at the College Road venue and Saracens, having been so potent at the outset, were now experiencing turbulence.
Connacht clawed their way into the reckoning with Robbie Henshaw highly effective in the centre making hard yards repeatedly pinning back the previously dominant London outfit.
By the time the interval rolled around the teams were deadlocked at 17-17; the issue was delicately poised, and a raucous home crowd saluted the defiant Westerners.
Early on Connacht were in deep distress as Saracens settled briskly crashing over for an opportunistic sixth minute Chris Wyles try which Farrell converted.
The Connacht riposte was quick as Dan Parks nailed a difficult penalty from an acute angle, but Saracens were unperturbed.
Saracens continued to find gaps with Farrell splendid and winger Chris Ashton touched down with Farrell adding the extras.
There was a drop of good fortune to how Connacht got back into the game in the 18th minute when Kieran Marmion reacted sharply to dash through for a sweet try.
Parks converted and though Farrell replied with a 26th minute penalty Connacht were now very much in the groove.
Henshaw was immense and Connacht pinched the second try they deserved on 31 when Daniel Poolman scorched clear with Parks stroking over the resultant conversion.
In the seven minutes after the restart Saracens the TMO twice ruled that Saracens shouldn’t be awarded tries as Connacht were being examined again.
Farrell rifled over a 53rd minute penalty for Mark McCall’s side, who were camped in Connacht territory during the third quarter.
Five minutes from time Farrell clipped another penalty under duress and Saracens had the ability and guile to close the deal despite the inevitable late Connacht rally.
Connacht: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Craig Ronaldson, Daniel Poolman; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You; Michael Swift, Craig Clarke; John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.
Replacements: JP Cooney for Ah You (36-40 mins), Andrew Browne for Muldoon (55 mins), Aly Muldowney for Swift (59 mins), Tiernan O’Halloran for Carr (59 mins), James So’Oialo for Ronaldson (67 mins), Jason Harris-Wright for Henry (70 mins), Paul O’Donohoe for Marmion (71 mins), JP Cooney for Wilkinson (71 mins).
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Chris Wyles, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens; Steve Borthwick, George Kruis; Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Erst Joubert for Fraser (34 mins), Richard Wigglesworth for de Kock (53 mins), Alistair Hargreaves for Kruis (57 mins), Duncan Taylor for Tomkins (60 mins), Rhys Gill for N Vunipola (73 mins), Jamie George for Brits (73 mins), James Johnston for Stevens (73 mins).
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).