Newcastle Falcons bowed out of the LV=Cup with a game to spare, but a youthful selection including eight senior debutants learnt plenty from the experience.
Friday’s home date with Newport Gwent Dragons assumes dead-rubber status in a season where silverware is now beyond them, although even a bonus-point win yesterday would have left them with a mathematical mountain to climb in chasing down unbeaten group leaders Northampton.
Instead, the positives were more of the long-term variety - director of rugby Dean Richards watching a freshened-up side struggle badly with early discipline but recovering enough to put in a creditable showing against the Premiership leaders.
Richards, cutting an upbeat figure despite the margin of defeat, said: “I don’t think the scoreline reflected the game.
“All it does is show they were a little more clinical than us in certain areas and as a result of that they were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
“I was pleased with a lot of stuff, and with how the youngsters came through.
“You look at the strength in depth Saracens have, and when you hear their coach say they weren’t sure what their players would bring then they must not have that much contact with them.
“We knew exactly what our boys would bring and I was pleased they didn’t freeze on the day at a very difficult place to play.”
Hammered by the early penalty-count and struggling for a foothold in the game, three penalties from home scrum-half Ben Spencer had Richards’ side 9-0 down and with a man in the sin-bin after just 10 ragged minutes.
Sean Tomes was the man to take a breather after being caught on the wrong side of a ruck, his dismissal a result of a team warning after a litany of earlier Falcons’ indiscretions.
However, they held their nerves sufficiently to push out of their own half and into the Saracens’ 22, a scrum win against the head seeing Joel Hodgson pierce the blind-side defence and feed Tom Catterick for a try in the left corner.
The livewire fly-half has been short on starts for Newcastle this term, but used the synthetic surface to his advantage with a string of breaks despite the North London rain hammering down.
Spencer’s fourth penalty restored Sarries’ dominance as the scrum-half slotted from long range, England under-20s wing Zach Kibirige catching the kick-off and racing swiftly from 22 to 22. It was a glimpse of his scintilating attacking promise, but his side had to turn to the boot for their next points as Hodgson drilled over a penalty from the half-way line.
Pushing two further long-rangers right of the posts, Spencer’s fifth penalty secured a 15-8 half-time lead for Saracens with the final kick of the half after Newcastle’s defence had withstood a scrum and a line-out from five metres out.
The second half began in ominous fashion from the visitors’ perspective, Sarries flanker Nick de Jager knocking-on over their try-line but back-row team-mate Jackson Wray having no such problems in the left corner with a 49th minute try from a close-range ruck.
The Tyneside-born No 8 repeated the feat down the opposite flank just three minutes later, Newcastle bouncing back to enjoy a period of pressure inside the home 22 but failing to convert it into points through repeated infringements.
The league leaders were more ruthless in exploiting their opportunities, Tim Streather’s line-break delivering a try for full-back Ben Ransom on a fine supporting line.
Only the four-try bonus point remained in the way of the hosts, who wrapped that up with the final play when replacement lock Tom Jubb was barged over in the left corner, Spencer converting on an afternoon where Newcastle learnt some hard but valuable lessons.
In no mind to cast a grey cloud over the day, Richards said: “Considering we had 19 guys who had come through our academy and eight players making their debuts, I thought we did all right.
“We gave a good account of ourselves and I don’t think Saracens were four tries better than us. There were a lot of positive contributions.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: S Hammersley, T Catterick, D Barnes (T Penny, 60), A Crockett, Z Kibirige, J Hodgson (R Clegg, 60), C Pilgrim (A Davies, 66); F Montanella (G Shiells, 64, F Montanella, 79), G McGuigan (D Nelson, 69), O Tomaszczyk (G Strain, 64), S Tomes, G Young (W Witty, 60), B Morris, D Temm, C York (captain, O Hodgson, 64)).
Sin-bin: S Tomes (9 mins).
Falcons scorers – Tries: T Catterick. Conversions: . Penalties: J Hodgson.
SARACENS: B Ransom, J Wilson, T Streather, N Tompkins, N Earle, N Mordt (captain), B Spencer; R Gill, J Saunders (S Spurling, 51), J Johnston, H Smith (T Jubb, 71), E Sheriff, N de Jaeger (M Itoje, 71), M Hankin, J Wray.
Saracens scorers – Tries: J Wray 2, B Ransom, T Jubb. Conversions: B Spencer 3. Penalties: B Spencer 5.
Referee: G MacDonald. Attendance: 5,559.