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Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch braced for the ‘most important game of the season’ as the European Rugby Champions Cup holders aim to seal a last eight spot at the Scarlets.
A win for the European and English champions would see them guarantee their place in the quarter-finals for a sixth successive season. But they face a Scarlets side who need to win their final two Pool 3 matches if they are to earn a place in the last eight.
Saracens are the only unbeaten team left in the competition after four straight wins, including a 44-26 triumph over the West Walians at Allianz Park in Round 2. But Wayne Pivac’s men have claimed a historic 22-21 victory over RC Toulon in Round 4, and are determined to take another big scalp. But Bosch, who scored in the reverse fixture, knows this could prove to be the most important game in Sarries’ season so far.
He said: “We know that we play against top teams with good individuals and players who can break defenders at any moment so we know we have to switch on and be our best defensively in this competition. The Scarlets can play from deep they have really good players who read the defence well, so we need to be spot on.
“It will be a really tough game, Mark McCall told us that this is the most important game of the season. This one is for our quarter-final place and it’s a must-win for them. It is a massive game and a massive challenge. Hopefully we can have that victory and qualification we deserve.”
The Scarlets have won back-to-back Guinness PRO12 matches against Cardiff Blues and Ulster. They will be without outside-half Rhys Patchell, who has undergone surgery on his ankle, but captain Ken Owens is still hopeful they can reach the promised land.
He said: “We're still in with a reasonable shout in Europe; if we get a win against reigning champions Saracens at home then we've got Sale away and who knows. We're taking it game by game; we've put ourselves in a decent position.
“We've done better than last season with two home wins, and improving on last year's results was a target for us. Hopefully we'll get a third home win and one on the road and then who knows.”
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Chris Ashton’s try at the death broke Scarlets’ hearts and salvaged a 22-22 draw for defending European champions Saracens.
Mark McCall’s men arrived in West Wales knowing a victory would all-but guarantee them a home tie in the last eight. But the Scarlets had other ideas. Nathan Earle crossed for the visitors, but the boot of Dan Jones kept the Scarlets’ noses in-front.
Ashton levelled the scores with his 32nd try in Europe’s premier rugby competition, but Scott Williams hit-back. A late Jones penalty looked to have been enough, before Farrell and Ashton combined to snatch a draw.
Saracens will advance from Pool 3 and know a win against RC Toulon will guarantee a home tie in the last eight, while the Scarlets’ slim hopes of qualifying are over despite another heroic performance.
The West Walians raced out of the blocks and had two early chances to get over the whitewash. Jones’ cross-field kick did not bounce kindly for Sarries bound Liam Williams, before captain Ken Owens fumbled on the try line. They did go three points ahead thanks to a Jones penalty moments later, after a powerful scrum under the posts.
Their advantage did not last for long as the European champions turned on the power. A driving lineout was stopped short of the line, but wave after wave of carries weakened the Scarlets’ rearguard. Richard Wigglesworth fired a pass to Alex Lowzowski, who cushioned the ball into the path of Earle, who dived over for his second Champions Cup try.
But the Scarlets’ response was immediate. Jonny McNicholl was dragged into touch just short of the line, but Jones was on-target with a penalty moments later to retake the lead. He made it three from three moments later, before Farrell missed a penalty of his own to keep the gap at four points at half-time.
Four quickly became seven after another Dan Jones penalty, but the champions scored a try from nowhere to level it up. The Scarlets were repelling Sarries, before a loose ball was scooped up by Farrell. He sent Lozowski flying through a gap in midfield and the full-back found Ashton – who crossed for his 32nd European Cup try.
The Scarlets’ star men stood up to restore the seven point lead. The hosts went straight back down the other end before Scott Williams punctured the Sarries defence to score from close range. Wayne Pivac would have been pleased with the way his charges kept the ball deep in Sarries territory, until Jones snatched at a drop-goal. Liam Williams failed to deal with the long restart and Stuff Evans gifted them a penalty to cut the gap to 19-15.
Jones nailed his fifth penalty to make it 22-15 before Will Skleton was sin-binned. But Farrell broke clean through and sent Ashton in at the posts, before converting to rescue a draw.