David Strettle’s dramatic last-minute try rescued victory for Saracens against Wasps at Twickenham.
Sarries looked comfortable in the first half and scored tries through Chris Ashton and Strettle.
But Nathan Hughes crashed over after the break and Christian Wade, making his first start in nine months, crossed twice to turn the game around.
Strettle scored to bring Saracens to within a point and then won it with his hat-trick try at the death.
There was a nervous wait for Strettle as referee Andrew Small looked to television replays to confirm whether the England winger had managed to push the ball over the line.
It was a cruel blow for Wasps, who suffered similar heartache at Twickenham 12 months ago when Andy Goode’s late penalty struck a post to deny them a win against Harlequins, and they were so close to producing a superb comeback this time around against last season’s
Saracens, meanwhile, showed the character they possess to recover, particularly after defeats in the
and Premiership finals last season.
Boss Mark McCall is currently without hard-hitting hooker Schalk Brits while he represents South Africa in the Rugby Championship, but the Sarries pack seemed to have their Wasps counterparts worked out for much of the first 40 minutes and allowed their backs the space to produce a pair of tries.
England fly-half Owen Farrell was only deemed fit enough for the bench, and it was his replacement Charlie Hodgson who created the first try after just eight minutes with a grubber kick that bounced nicely for Ashton to gather and touch down.
Wasps full-back Rob Miller, a summer signing from Sale, had failed to hold on to the England wing and, after Hodgson and Goode had traded two penalties each, saw his debut turn even more sour as he struggled to cope with Richard Wigglesworth’s long punt, allowing Strettle to cross.
Goode was able to land a penalty before half-time and Wasps mounted a resurgence after the break.
Dai Young’s side, in contrast to Sarries, finished the 2013-14 campaign on a high by beating Stade Francais in a play-off to take the final qualifying place for the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup and, much like last summer, have recruited heavily for the new campaign.
But it was an established trio that sparked Wasps into life, with Joe Simpson making yards with a superb break and then Goode feeding Hughes to cross.
And then Wade, in his first appearance since November after a foot injury, gave England boss Stuart Lancaster something to ponder with a smart finish, racing onto a Goode kick in the corner and outmuscling Ashton to touch down inches from the edge of the pitch, before grabbing his second by collecting a delicate poked pass from giant flanker Ashley Johnson.
McCall introduced Farrell and the England number 10 made an instant impact, zipping the ball out from the back of the ruck to give Strettle an easy finish.
Farrell missed a presentable penalty in what seemed to be the final chance for Saracens to steal the points, but Strettle’s intervention secured the win and the bonus point.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
“I think the scoreline at half-time flattered us. Every part of our game was just a small bit down.
“Give Wasps credit, they are a very good side. In the second half they gave our breakdown a tough time. We’re relieved to come away with a win.
“Despite me saying we weren’t at our best, to be eight points down with 12 minutes to go it’s a bit of a mountain to climb. We showed enough class, quality and character to come back a couple of times.
“The replays of the last try I didn’t really look at. I kept my eyes closed, hoping it was going to be awarded. I don’t really want to talk about luck. I thought it was a great move worthy of winning a game of rugby.”
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young:
“I said to the players after the game, ‘it’s getting a bit tiresome saying the same things week in week out’ – as in we struggle with an 80-minute performance. We’ve struggled with that for 12 months.
“If you look at our first 40 minutes, it just wasn’t good enough – we had the territory and possession. I think Saracens only had something like 12 rucks in the first half. But we failed to cause them problems.
“And then, for 35 minutes I thought we played some really good stuff. We talked about winning more of the collisions. I thought we pretty much delivered what we talked about, but with three minutes to go we had it in our hands to win the game deep in their 22.”
Goode; Ashton, Taylor, Barritt, Strettle; Hodgson, Wigglesworth; Barrington, George, Longbottom; Kruis, Hargreaves (capt); Brown, Fraser, Vunipola.
Streather for Ashton (72), Farrell for Hodgson (62), Spencer for Wigglesworth (53), Gill for Barrington (50), Du Plessis for Longbottom (50), Hamilton for Hargreaves (65), Wray for Brown (57). Not Used: Spurling.
Miller; Wade, Daly, C. Bell, Tagicakibau; Goode, Simpson; Mullan, Festuccia, Cittadini; Launchbury, Gaskell; Johnson, Haskell (capt), Hughes.
Masi for Miller (56), R. Jackson for Goode (71), Lindsay for Mullan (66), Yapp for Festuccia (65), Swainston for Cittadini (56), Myall for Gaskell (56), Thompson for Hughes (71). Not Used: Davies.
Andrew Small (RFU).
Saracens 34-28 Wasps