Sunday 15th September saw us back at Allianz Park for the first home game for Saracens in the 2103/14 season. I had Gloucester down as real contenders for a top 4 place this year; they have some really good English talent with players vying for places in the national team. I always felt that a wounded Gloucester would be more of a challenge having had a shock loss in round one.
Nick Wood’s moment of madness in the first 80 seconds however made it highly unlikely that they would go home with the points. A stamp to Jacques Burger’s head saw the only suitable punishment of a red card, a devastating moment for the Gloucester hopes and for a clearly distraught Nick Wood. However a red card was the only response that Wayne Barnes had available to him, I’m sure Wood will be vilified this week, but from his history and reaction it was an act of stupidity rather than maliciousness. As a Saracens fan it was a great relief to see Jacques up and safe, he is such an awesome talent and we were without him for too long last season!
You might imagine Saracens would run away with the game from that moment, but it has to be said Gloucester were the better team in the first half. Freddie Burns who having missed his first kick scored the first points, as I expected Burns impressed throughout the game and will be pressing hard for the 10 England shirt.
With 20 minutes of the game played Saracens were still posting a big fat zero against 14 men. I was with iPad at the game and made myself some notes, one of which said, Saracens not getting the basics right! Owen Farrell missing touch from a penalty at one point! As is plain I’ve never actually played rugby but, really? Missing touch from a penalty? Schoolboy error I’d say.
What was plain In those 20 minutes is that Billy Vunipola is going to become a Saracens favourite this season this lad is a mere 20 years old, very hard to compute that fact when you see him on a rugby pitch!
Just as I was wondering when we were going to see some points on the board Saracens came up with some great play to see Joel Tomkins score a great try under the posts. Owen Farrell stepped up to convert to see us lead after 21 minutes. Joel was a star in rugby league although realistically living in the shadow of his brother Sam, probably one of the best players in England.
Owen Farrell attempted a kick at goal after a penalty, the wind was clearly strong and the kick sailed the wrong sides of the posts. Freddie Burns however converted successfully moments after to put Gloucester within a point of Saracens. It was hard to see the advantage we should have had with an extra man. Duncan Taylor had a good game after stepping into Brad Barritt’s shoes; seems we’ll be without Brad until Christmas so he has a chance to make his mark. The remainder of the first half saw 3 points scored by Saracens but 2 penalties for Gloucester saw them go in at half time in the lead! Saracens 10 Gloucester 12. Not the position you would have imagined, but as per my comment to myself we didn’t get the basics right.
Now, having had a chat with John Smit after the loss to Munster in Limerick last season, which saw our ability to win our own line outs go missing, it was plain to me that Steve Borthwick is a hugely competitive man as well as a perfectionist. I should imagine the air in the changing room was a shade of blue at half time.
The second half started in a manner that suggested that had been the case as Saracens won a penalty with strong forwards play, swiftly converted by Owen Farrell who clearly changed his boots for the kicking ones too! As I write the I’m watching a rerun of the game, I think I may need to send photos of Duncan Taylor and Joel Tomkins in to BT Sport, the commentator it seems can’t tell the difference, what a silly billy! Oh, and nor does he know the difference between the number 12 and 13!
So we did see Saracens score the points they lacked in the first half; although I’m not so sure the Stereomoaners sitting behind me, one behind each shoulder, seemed to see that. I can see I’m going to be falling out with my fellow fans this year….. Yes we made a fair few mistakes however there was also some great play. A note to referees visiting Allianz Park this year too; apparently EVERY penalty given away by Saracens? Isn’t actually a penalty! Now I think we all know that every team will give penalties away, it’s the nature of the game!
Back to on the pitch matters, David Strettle who has thrived at Saracens and who played particularly well today scored a great try as an overlap appeared; converted with a little help from the posts to take the score to Saracens 23 Gloucester 12. An amazing drive by Saracens saw a yellow card brandished as number 8 Kalamfoni pulled the drive down. The next rolling drive saw Schalk Brits in possession of the ball to score. Owen’s kicking boots ensured a stretch to 30 points for the home team. Gloucester weren’t ready to give up and Henry Trinder impressed with some great play.
With 10 minutes of play remaining a bonus point win was on the cards for Saracens and so it proved to be with 2 tries scored. Billy Vunipola got on the scorecard after a lucky break saw a kick by Chris Ashton touched in flight before it went over the dead ball line. David Strettle added a second to his tally, after showing us his wendyball skills!
So the score finished 44 to 12 with a bonus point for Saracens. A good day at the office? In spite of the scoreline I think improvements need to be made on Saracens part, a strange comment to make on a bonus point win, but, we have some tough opposition to face this year I’m not sure today’s performance will have scared them. We need to cut out some of the errors made. It was great to see Schalk Brits come on as a substitute and a first appearance from the bench for James Johnston. Also a fine display by Jacques Burger winning him the man of the match plaudit! As far as Gloucester are concerned? I think they have positives to take from the game, Freddie Burns shone as did Billy Twelvetrees; their first win isn’t too far away.