Warriors gave Saracens an almighty fright before going down to defeat in a titanic struggle in the Gallagher Premiership at Allianz Park on Saturday.
Tries from Duncan Weir and Ben Te’o gave Warriors a 14 points lead after just 12 minutes before Saracens, still smarting from defeat at Exeter last week, hit back.
Weir added a penalty late in the first half but Warriors were unable to build on their encouraging first half performance and were unable to add a further score in the second period while the champions nailed down victory with tries from Calum Clark and David Strettle.
But it was another resilient performance from Warriors who again showed character in adversity. Already without the injured Nick Schonert, Josh Adams, Marco Mama and Ryan Mills Warriors lost Michael Fatialofa on the morning of the match through.
Pierce Phillips performed admirably as Fatialofa’s deputy and Darren Barry, a late addition to the matchday squad, also played his part in a much-improved lineout display when he came on as a second half replacement for Anton Bresler.
Warriors should take confidence from the manner in which they stunned Saracens in the opening exchanges.
The champions conceded an early penalty which gave Warriors the chance to build the pressure and their patient approach work was rewarded when Francois Hougaard popped a pass to Weir who scooted in at the corner and then added the conversion, via a goalpost, from the touchline.
Saracens were still trying to catch their breath when Warriors scored again, this time with Perry Humphreys slicing open the home defence with a perfectly angled run and Te’o arriving in support to score a try 12 minutes into his first Premiership match of the season.
Weir added the extras but Warriors were then tested in defence as Saracens used their juggernaut pack in an attempt to batter their way over.
Owen Farrell pulled back three points with a 22nd minute penalty and Saracens thought that they had scored again when lock Will Skelton broke a tackle and got over the line. But Skelton dropped the ball as he tried to ground it and the try was disallowed.
It proved a temporary respite for Warriors as Saracens forced penalties under pressure and they used their driving maul to rumble Mako Vunipola over for a try from a lineout.
Farrell’s conversion attempt struck a post and bounced out but Weir made no mistake with a penalty from 30 metres out when Saracens were caught killing the ball in a ruck.
Warriors continued to play the more enterprising rugby but Saracens were pragmatic and when Farrell got the opportunity to pull back three points with a penalty in first half injury time he made no mistake.
Warriors found themselves under mounting pressure in the second half and had another let-off when Ben Spencer knocked on as he went over the line.
But Saracens made their pressure count when they created space for flanker Clark to cross and Farrell’s conversion gave them the lead for the first time.
Warriors defended stoutly for long periods of the second half and Saracens’ increasing anxiety was reflected in Farrell’s decision to kick a penalty for goal.
The kick drifted wide but another wave of attacks followed and former England wing Strettle sliced through for the try which Farrell improved.
Weir had the chance to claim a losing bonus point for Warriors nine minutes from time but his penalty faded left of the target.
Warriors | 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard (Arr 68), 1 Callum Black (Waller 56), 2 Jack Singleton (Taufete’e 58), 3 Gareth Milasinovich (Kerrod 58), 4 Anton Bresler (Barry 66), 5 Pierce Phillips, 6 Ted Hill (Cox 68), 7 Sam Lewis, 8 GJ van Velze (C).
Replacements | 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Darren Barry, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Scott van Breda.
4m | Weir try 0-5
5m | Weir con 0-7
12m | Te’o try 0-12
13m | Weir con 0-14
22m | Farrell pen 3-14
30m | Vunipola try 8-14
34m | Weir pen 8-17
40m | Farrell pen 11-17
53m | Clark try 16-17
54m | Farrell con 18-17
67m | Strettle 23-17
68m | Farrell con 25-17