So this is what a bottom-less pit of money gets you. Opera singers, a plastic pitch, club-branded pies and not a bad rugby team either.
For Newcastle Falcons it was a glimpse of how the other half live; a Saracens side shorn of five England internationals having more than enough in reserve to take a maximum haul of Premiership points.
Returning to the top of the table in doing so, they were made to work for it during the first half by a Newcastle squad continuing to grow in stature but which was given a torried time during a one-sided second 40.
“The boys will learn lessons from a day like today,” said director of rugby Dean Richards, whose charges now move into a fortnight of LV=Cup action. “Saracens had one chance in the first half and took it, but we were still in with a shout. In the second half their experience showed throughand they played the referee better than we did.
“They were more clinical than us after the break and and you have to take your opportunities when they come.” Dominating the opening half-hour and forcing their upwardly mobile hosts into ragged indiscipline, it was more than sheer nuisance value as Newcastle strung together fluid phases in planting the flag inside Saracens’ 22.
A mixed bag with the boot restricted the extent to which they made it count on the scoreboard, Phil Godman clattering the left post with what had seemed a straightforward penalty and then nailing a much more difficult opportunity from further and wider out to nudge them ahead on 13 minutes.
The experienced Scot, one midfield moment of indecision aside, probed the corners nicely as the visitors kept buzzing, Mike Blair and Alex Tait chipping away with a barrage of up-and-unders.
The latter was again to the fore and seems to have finally found his natural home at full-back.
Rising high under the bomb, finding his touch and making his tackles, it was the kind of nuts-and-bolts performance that coaches love.
A long-time nemesis of Newcastle, Charlie Hodgson began to exert a greater influence on proceedings as the former England fly-half recovered from an earlier penalty miss to put his side ahead on the half-hour, a counter-attack down the right seeing Chris Wyles and Michael Tagicakibau set up the ruck from which he ghosted over the try-line. Back from a lengthy Achilles lay-off, the crisp handling and peripheral vision of the ex-Sale man pivot were all there as he pulled the attacking strings, delivering a 10-3 half-time lead through a well-taken penalty.
By this stage his side were a man down with Matt Stevens in the sin-bin for taking out a Newcastle jumper in the line-out, but they rode out the 10 minutes and began the second half strongly as Hodgson slotted a second penalty from the left.
It was a taste of things to come, the Falcons’ first-half shape and composure somewhat fading as the Londoners turned the screw. Increasingly dominant in the scrum, their line-out began to pilfer Newcastle ball as Richards’ men hung on for dear life. As the pace of Sarries’ attack grew, so did Newcastle’s defensive worries, Richard Wigglesworth driving the tempo from scrum-half after being introduced as an interval replacement.
Hodgson’s third penalty from another storming scrum extended the lead to 13 points before the visitors shipped on a whole new front-row, but they could not turn the tide as David Strettle chased down an Alex Goode grubber to score in the left corner. It took the video referee an age to decide whether the England winger’s left boot had come into contact with the touch-line, but with the lead stretched to 18 it was simply a case of whether or not the hosts could chalk up the four-try bonus point.
That target came into view when a rolling maul in he right corner delivered a try for hooker Jamie George, and was met on 69 minutes when Duncan Taylor’s line-break and a lovely floated pass from Hodgson delivered a walk-in for Goode in the right corner.
Strettle’s second try and Goode’s conversion three minutes from time completed the scoring as the visitors chased shadows – Newcastle well beaten but not without their early plus points.
Richards said: “For 40 minutes we competed and had we taken our chances we might not have trailed at half-time. You learn from it and there is a lot of ability in our side. We are a far more balanced team than last year, although that second half will take a little bit of looking at on the video.”
His Saracens counterpart Mark McCall was less charitable, questioning Newcastle’s penalty-count.
The North Irishman said: “They gave away something like 20 penalties during that game and to keep 15 men on the pitch for the duration was quite an achievement.
“Across the board I thought we were strong and I was pleased.”