Sarries restore English pride
Paris - Saracens ensured there was one English representative in the last eight of the European Cup on Sunday coming away unconvincing 26-20 winners over Italian side Treviso.
The win ensured they finished top of Pool 5 but while they are guaranteed a home draw in the quarter-finals their display in Italy will not have thrown up much for their opponents to fear as they were outplayed for most of the game.
Biarritz thrashed Ospreys 36-5 in the other pool match with their Zimbabwe-born American international wing Takudzwa Ngwenya scoring three of their five tries while Benoit Baby and former England international back Ian Balshaw got the other.
That saw them end on 18 points and holding onto a last eight place ahead of the final two games of the weekend in Pool Two as Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh, who have 17 points, host Racing-Metro and London Irish respectively.
Treviso scored the first try as No 8 Robert Barbieri - born in Canada but selected for the Italy Six Nations squad - brushed aside Matt Stevens and former Ireland scrumhalf Peter Stringer to touch down in the 13th minute - Kris Burton converted to make it 7-3.
However, Saracens went back into the lead as South Africa-born England international lock Mouritz Botha - fed by Stringer - went over and was converted by Owen Farrell, who had opened the scoring with a penalty.
The hosts, though, were far from cowed by that and a sensational move prompted by Barbieri and involving Brendan Williams and Italy flyhalf Burton set up wing Tommaso Iannone who went in and Burton converted for 14-10.
Burton was in impressive form and he edged them further ahead in the 26th minute with a drop-goal and all Saracens could find in replay was a penalty from Farrell three minutes from the break which was also the moment that Irish referee Alain Rolland had to call it a day with a calf muscle injury.
However, they got themselves ahead from the second-half kick-off as wing David Strettle benefited from a block and he went over - Farrell converted to make it 20-17 to the visitors.
Burton brought Treviso level shortly afterwards but Farrell showing the accuracy that has brought him an England call-up slotted a penalty of his own to make it 23-20.
The hosts, though, kept banging away and making inroads into the Saracens defence and were unfortunate to be denied a third try when South African scrumhalf Tobie Botes touched down but it was ruled out after several minutes review for a Treviso infringement in the build-up.
Instead it was Saracens who extended their lead as Farrell added another penalty with 18 minutes remaining and just managed to hold on against some late Italian pressure.
However, any cause for celebration will be dampened by their Scottish backrow forward Kelly Brown having to be taken to hospital after going off in the first-half with what looked like a serious injury and which could threaten his Six Nations campaign.
European Cup results on Sunday:
Cardiff Blues (WAL) 36 Racing-Metro (FRA) 30
Edinburgh (SCO) 34 London Irish (ENG) 11
At Treviso, Italy
Treviso (ITA) 20 Saracens (ENG) 26
At Biarritz, France
Biarritz (FRA) 35 Neath-Swansea Ospreys (WAL) 6
Played on Saturday:
At Milton Keynes, England
Northampton (ENG) 36 Munster (IRL) 51
At Castres, France
Castres (FRA) 13 Scarlets (WAL) 16
At Bath, England
Bath (ENG) 23 Glasgow (SCO) 18
Leinster (IRL) 25 Montpellier (FRA) 3
At Leicester, England
Leicester (ENG) 33 Aironi (ITA) 6
At Clermont, France
Clermont (FRA) 19 Ulster (IRL) 15
Played on Friday:
At Galway, Ireland
Connacht (IRL) 9 Harlequins (ENG) 8
At Gloucester, England
Gloucester (ENG) 34 Toulouse (FRA) 24