And so the Heineken Cup Starts – a Tough Night in Galway!

SaracensAviva1213Saracens walk out to a quiet stadium, Connacht to a roar from their fans! Let the Heineken Cup begin! Dan Parks at 10 for the Irish team, quite a surprise. A French ref so the scrums would be interesting. First play. Neil De Kock kicks up field, Parks returns a poor kick; first line out to Saracens and.. We start with those words again,  knock on by Saracens after spreading the ball. First scrum, set and held well, Alex Goode returns the ball after a kick down field. Owen Farrell returns with a kick cleverly taken by Gavin Duffy as he put a foot in touch to take the line out back to where the ball was kicked. Some lineouts happen one lost by Saracens on their own throw, but Brits smothers the man In possession who holds on to give a penalty away.  Saracens win the line out and some great hands from Farrell and David Strettle  sees Chris Wyles run in to score as Joel Tomkins acts as a decoy. The American is such a fine utility back who has played at full back and on the wing, for those game he scored from inside centre!

Saracens give a penalty straight from the kick off, Parks hits the ball brilliantly through the middle of the posts. The excitement continued as  Saracens play what the commentators described as superb rugby with the ball passing through the hands of virtually every player across the pitch,from side to side, to send Chris Ashton in for their second try! Connacht 3 Saracens 14 after a great kick by Farrell with 10 minutes on the clock!

The second scrum saw another successful one! No use of reset yet! Dan Parks proved his class all through the first half putting in some  very awkward kicks which caused problems for Saracens. Joel Tomkins makes a high tackle during one attack, giving a penalty to Connacht, a hang over from his rugby league days maybe? Schalk Brits also made his mark in the first half with some very big tackles, not sure how a man who really isn’t huge actually gets up after one tackle let alone lots!

Connacht make the most of an error by Saracens, Mako Vunipola took the man out for me; but it only seemed to be me who thought that! Kieron Marmion takes advantage of the loose ball and runs in to score! Farrell kicks straight into touch from the kick off, first scrum reset, then, collapsed again, the reset sees the camera focused on what looks like the dirty white, yet grey shorts Saracens wear as their away kit, really? Not a good look!

Another scrum results in a penalty for Saracens, the ref actually bent right down to see what was occurring, never seen that before! Saracens scary forward pack are split by Connacht  after a lineout which is unusual this season, but  that work is wasted as a Connacht player entered from the side to give Farrell a fairly easy kick to make it Connacht 10 Saracens 17

A great kick by Parks gives a platform to the Connacht forwards to attack, the wind caused great difficulty for Saracens. Connacht go in to score a great try as Danie Pullman takes a brilliant pass from Marmion after solid forward work. Parks kicks the conversion to take the score to 17 a piece.  Will Fraser leaves the pitch with his left shoulder hanging which is very bad news for both Saracens and England; Ernst Joubert takes his place. Connacht lose Ah You to the blood bin, what a name! Brilliant! Saracens get beaten for power in their own scrum causing Joubert to hold on, Parks kicks the ball into Saracens half. Some handbags ensue and the officials have a chat in French, which is where I needed my Paris living daughter! Matt Stevens holds the shirt of the Connacht player and then gets an elbow to the face??? Stevens gets told off and Connacht get the penalty;  not so sure about that one, they didn’t seem to notice the elbow? Half time arrives with the teams going in at even stevens.

Saracens started the second half as if the inspirational half time happened again, maybe a shout or two? Connacht proved to be very tough opposition in the first half. After attacking like mad things for the first 3 minutes a bad pass to the feet not the hands gives Connacht a relieving lineout. Joubert in his new position on the wing (only kidding) comes very close to scoring; George Kruis picks the ball up and looks for the try;  more French chat and the decision is no try! Saracens win the 5m scrum but a great tackle puts De Kock into touch, blatantly obvious,  but the officials were clearly fed up with speaking English so had a discussion again; to decide the obvious of a lineout! Connacht decided to play the ball away from their line rather than kick it, but a clearly off side Billy Vunipola gives away a penalty for Parks to kick the ball.

Saracens continued their fairly relentless attack and at 52 minutes Farrell converted a penalty after the Connacht fullback held on to Chris Ashton. 12 minutes of attack and 3 points might not have been what was expected for the team at the top of the premiership against a team with only one win under their belts. The Heineken Cup can produce some wonderful performances, the men in black must have shocked Saracens.  The visitors continued to bombard the Connacht defence, but another poor pass halted the progress again giving Connacht the put in to another first time successful scrum! Woohoo! They largely worked, I wonder why??

At 60 minutes with a 3 point gap for Saracens the game was very finely balanced. Richard Wigglesworth on as replacement scrum half kicked straight to touch twice with the second giving Connacht a lineout in dangerous territory. After finding themselves in Saracens 22 for the first time in the half, Connacht knocked on,  Goode cleared the lines with a good kick up field after a nervous scrum. Full Back is definitely Goode’s position, last weeks start at 10 was unfair to say the least. I’m actually writing this report as I’m watching the game on the TV live as I couldn’t get to Ireland and at 67 minutes? I’m feeling nervous! Saracens need to start with a win! Back to past tense….

Saracens attack again and Farrell gets himself into the ‘pocket’ (what does that mean???) to attempt a drop goal, missed but it would seem Saracens were worried too! Parks put in another great kick and Ashton and Wigglesworth stand and watch it bounce, school boy error there!  Keeping the momentum with Connacht. I think every neutral would have been willing the Irish team to win at 71 minutes, they seemed to want it more!

Saracens changed their whole front row at 72 minutes, the heavy mob according to the commentators; they’ve clearly never compared Rhys Gill to Mako Vunipola or Matt Stevens come to think of it! The referee played a reeeeally long advantage much to the disgust of the home fans; Farrell converted to stretch the lead to 6 points.

Saracens delayed a put in on the lineout to allow Billy Vunipola to receive treatment and gave a penalty away as the referee lost his patience.  With 2 minutes on the clock Parks kicks for the corner after winning another penalty. A huge  sense of déjà vu prevailed as Saracens defended their line, which in common with the Premiership Final, they again did admirably.  Connacht passed the ball out and eventually knocked on. With the clock in the red a relieved Owen Farrell kicked the ball to touch. Saracens go home winners by 23 points to Connacht’s 17

I’d say that the other teams in the pool now know that a visit to Galway is no walk in the park. Marmion and Parks made a fine combination at 9 and 10 and the Connacht forwards played with grit and determination.  Saracens however keep their unbeaten run, 6 games played, 6 won; I think the boys in washed out grey will always remember their trip to a windy Galway!  And as a Saracens fan, I think a big phew is in order!

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