Saracens forge ahead

A weakened Saracens all but confirmed their place at the top of the English Premiership with a tough 23-18 win over Newcastle.

They secured their 18th win of the season with a much-changed side as they turned their attention to their European Cup semi-final against Clermont next weekend, resting several top players. Among those given a rare outing was former Western Province loose forward Nick Fenton-Wells, while ex-Sharks lock Alastair Hargreaves returned after a long injury lay-off.

Tries from Tim Streather and Ben Ransom plus 13 points from Charlie Hodgson kept them nine points clear of Northampton with two matches to go in May; one of which is against bottom-placed Worcester.

The Northampton Saints, well beaten by Saracens last weekend, boosted their chances of a home semi-final with a bonus-point 36-21 win over London Irish at Franklin's Gardens.

They fielded a full-strength side and after 42 minutes the game looked over as Salesi Ma'afu scored their fourth try to make it 29-0, adding his score to two from Jamie Elliott and one from Kahn Fotuali'i. But a series of errors saw Irish come back with three second-half tries from Shane Geraghty, Andrew Fenby and Jebb Sinclair.

It might have been four if the TMO had not cancelled Marland Yarde's 60m effort. Instead Alex Waller added a fifth after the hooter sounded.

The weekend's games confirmed the top six for next season's European Rugby Champions Cup, while Wasps put themselves in line for a play-off place in seventh by beating Gloucester 38-30.

Sunday results:

Northampton 36 London Irish 21
Newcastle 18 Saracens 23

Saturday results:

Harlequins 24 Leicester 22
Exeter 12 Sale 55
Bath 32 Worcester 20
Wasps 38 Gloucester 30

Premiership log

Photo: Richard Sellers/Getty Images