Saracens 29 Worcester 15

How quickly the intoxicating high of victory over Wasps can dissipate. All but three of these players, after all, were the same ones who produced the performance of a lifetime to murder the English champions in their last outing.

Yet here, against a Saracens side bristling with malevolent intent, they allowed their hosts to dictate proceedings every bit as comprehensively as they themselves had done at Sixways fortnight ago.

How could it have been the same team? One, in fact, strengthened by the return of England flanker Pat Sanderson and no doubt buoyed by Gloucester's defeat to Bristol 24 hours earlier. This should have been the game in which they confirmed the credentials of their Heineken Cup aspirations.

Yet after allowing the division's 11th-placed team, as they were at the start of the day, to make good their own escape from the threat of relegation, they confounded, nay dumbfounded, their followers and coaches with a desperate display that was particularly poor in the opening 40 minutes.

Director of rugby John Brain was aghast at the difference in his side. "We talked enough all week about putting two good displays together," Brain said "We want to get out of this

boom-bust cycle but we can talk all we want. They thor-oughly deserved to win - we were outplayed.".

Indeed they were. Collectively, they defended and attacked atrociously. "You could probably look at all their tries and isolate where one of our players has missed a straightforward tackle," Brain noted.

It was never truer than during the build-up to the home side's fourth try. Ben Johnston's counter-attack was allowed to cover 50 metres and send him through two defenders before he was halted - by which time he had off-loaded to Dan Scarbrough. The wing then slid through two more tackles on his way to the line. It was all so very un-Worcester.

An ugly duckling of a first half started poorly for them and got worse. They went behind after two minutes when an out-of-sorts Nicolas Le Roux dallied instead of dealing with Johnston's kick to the corner.

The Frenchman was forced to concede a close-range line-out that was claimed by Kris Chesney and driven towards the line. Possession was spread to the backs where Tevita Vaikona was given the simplest of overlaps to convert. Glen Jackson minimised the damage by missing the conversion.

Worcester's first chance came after five minutes when Cobus Visagie slipped up the side of a ruck and was penalised. Shane Drahm hooked his 40-metre kick to the left of the posts.

The next half hour was wretched. Saracens dominated possession, massively helped by their guests' concession of five penalties inside 15 minutes and, but for Jack-son's errant boot, they would have been further ahead.

The New Zealander botched another goal attempt before he was successful with an angled penalty following Sanderson's pugilistic encounter with Simon Raiwalui. The eight-point deficit flattered the visitors but five minutes before the interval, Drahm made up for his earlier miss when he punished the home side for slipping their binding at a scrum.

At that stage, Worcester would have accepted Sarries' five-point lead, yet sadly for them, the hosts did not.

Deep into injury-time, home hooker Shane Byrne heaved a lineout over the top, whereupon Johnston raced on to the ball as it sat up, then burst between two tacklers.

The centre arced his run beautifully until Mark Bartholomeusz appeared on his shoulder to scamper home. Jackson's conversion made it 15-3 and gave the scoreline a rather more just appearance.

Worcester opened the second half well and put serious pressure on the home line. Saracens' coach Mike Ford felt his side's goalline stand was the seminal point in the game. "Had we conceded then, it might have been a different match," Ford said.

But they didn't. Eventually, Sanderson was shoved back as he tried to go on the blindside and Andy Gomarsall knocked on as he attempted to clear from the ruck.

Saracens went straight down the other end and a break by Jackson was well supported by Moses Rauluni. The little scrum-half shook off Drew Hickey, Thinus Delport and Le Roux on his way to the sticks.

Scarbrough's score only served to underline the disparity in the quality of the respective defences as he gave his side what could be a vital bonus point.

Strangely, Worcester ended the stronger. The introduction of Matt Powell injected spice into their probings, which produced a catch-and-drive try for Saosi Vaili.

Then, with the last action of the game, Powell capitalised on Delport's half-break and sent a delicious long pass out to Aisea Havili, who blazed 40 metres to the line. Drahm's conversion was little more than garnish as Worcester finished looking more like the team that beat Wasps. Where had they been hiding?