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Venter exits on a high as Saracens warm up for Leinster

SARACENS warmed up for next week's visit to the RDS by giving departing director of rugby Brendan Venter one last win at Vicarage Road yesterday.

It wasn't pretty, but the Watford-based side defeated London Irish 12-6 to give the South African some fond memories as he returns to Cape Town this morning.

"That was exactly what this club is about," said Venter. "What is here has never been about me. This is something we have all created together."

Even though he will return occasionally as technical director, the baton has passed to former Ulster coach Mark McCall after 18 months at the helm for Venter.

Even if this was not the most uplifting of displays, he leaves Saracens in good order, second in the Premiership.

McCall's first match comes against Leinster, who beat Saracens 25-23 at Wembley in October and can qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a win.

Venter will have sympathy for his opposite number, Toby Booth, whose misery continues after London Irish's 10th defeat in succession in all competitions.

When they last won in the league, against Sale on October 31, they were top of the Premiership. Now, after six consecutive defeats in the league, they lie seventh.

Not surprisingly, the Exiles look shorn of real sharpness and devil. To their credit, heads have not dropped. There was heart and soul even in this halting performance, but little finesse.

They threw all they had into a final, vain surge at the opposition line after Owen Farrell had kicked his fourth penalty in the 70th minute to nudge Saracens ahead.

Saracens had to graft their way towards victory, which they had so often been unable or unwilling to do prior to Venter's arrival. They might have got off to a sound start but for Farrell striking the upright twice in the opening 12 minutes, both misses coming from comfortable range.

Farrell (19) regained his composure and continued to show evidence that he will be a mainstay of this team (and perhaps England's) for many years to come, Charlie Hodgson's signing from Sale notwithstanding.

Gavin Henson, pushing for a place in the Wales Six Nations squad which is expected to be named next weekend, had to kick his heels until the 75th minute. He did not get a touch of the ball.

London Irish have to give Booth time, too. It will not be easy. On cloying surfaces, the freewheeling Exiles are too easily shackled. There were some spirited efforts from young forwards such as prop Alex Corbisiero and Matt Garvey, but they did not manage to truly threaten, their points coming from two first-half penalties by Chris Malone.

Irish Independent