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England pair unscathed ahead of Six Nations opener as Saracens beat London Irish

By PA
Maro Itoje /PA

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England forwards Maro Itoje and Jamie George came through unscathed from their final matches before the Six Nations as Saracens kept alive hopes of reaching the Challenge Cup knockout phase.

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London Irish were toppled 45-24 in the Pool C clash as Saracens emerged from their penultimate group match at StoneX Stadium with the bonus-point win needed to keep them in contention.

The game had been earmarked as Owen Farrell’s comeback after two months out because of ankle surgery but the England captain suffered a new injury to the other ankle in training last week and was ruled out.

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Itoje and George, who stepped off the bench in the second half, join up with Eddie Jones’ squad at their Brighton training camp on Monday with solid performances in the bank.

Billy and Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly have been overlooked by Jones as part of his team-rebuilding project and the trio were influential as the Exiles were swept aside.

The Vunipola brothers were heavily involved as Saracens set up early camp on the Irish line, using a series of line-out drive to apply pressure, but when they moved the ball wide full-back James Stokes was able to pick up a loose pass.

Inside his own 22 and with Daly in hot pursuit, the visiting full-back had the gas to win the foot race with clear daylight between him and his opposite number at Saracens.

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A quick exchange of tries between Sean Maitland and Cillian Redmond followed before the home side surged into the lead when a side-stepping break from Itoje enabled Alex Lewington to go over in the corner.

Saracens were in full stride now as Lewington added a brilliant second that was the result or precise attacking play started by Andy Christie’s midfield break before Maitland and Daly combined for the versatile England back to touch down.

A comprehensive 24-14 lead had now opened up but all season Irish have shown an ability to play their way back into games and early in the second half they crossed through Juan Martin Gonzalez.

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But in the 54th minute man of the match Vincent Koch forced his way over from close range and, when replacement prop Harvey Beaton crossed with five minutes to go, the door had been slammed shut on the group leaders.

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