Saracens returned to Allianz Park on the back of Heineken Cup and Premiership losses, with the loss to Northampton being pretty emphatic; I imagine Newcastle may have made the journey south wondering which Saracens they’d be facing. For Premiership games to be happening during the Autumn Internationals always seems slightly mad. Saracens contributed 5 of the starting 15 to the England team that beat Australia on Saturday. However this situation is known at the start to the season and it’s up to the clubs to plan accordingly. It was a great relief to see Charlie Hodgson’s name on the team sheet, a classy player he has been a real revelation since he joined Saracens and would prove to be for me the key player in the game against Newcastle.
The first half didn’t really pan out as I thought it would; and it was Newcastle who took first blood with Phil Godman converting a penalty this was after an earlier attempt hit the post and a drop goal went very wide. Saracens seemed to be carrying on as they finished against Newcastle giving away needless penalties. Two of them were given away by Matt Stevens who caused a player to land very heavily in a lineout, the second incident resulted in a yellow card; and while I agreed with my fellow fans that it was unlikely to have been deliberate it was clumsy and dangerous and deserving of 10 minutes in the bin.
The game took on all the attributes of that kick and clap style of rugby that had me yelling boring a fair bit in my first year as a season ticket holder 5 years ago; I just don’t get it! And union stalwarts tell me league is boring, at times rugby union can be as exciting as watching paint dry! But, things were to improve as the game went on. Michael Tagicakibau made a great run from his own half and won a penalty from the resulting ruck. The play from the lineout was great by the home team and Chris Wyles went close, a gap did however open up for Charlie Hodgson who went in for a very popular score, he converted his own penalty to take the score to 7 to 3, not a bad return on the 10 minutes with a man missing.
A controversial moment happened just before half time as Godman and Will Fraser went up together to catch a high kick; Godman had his eyes on the ball but ended up with his arms round Fraser’s neck. Fraser crashed to the ground where he remained for a while; again this wasn’t a deliberate move on Godman’s part, but it was clumsy and dangerous and could have resulted in a very bad injury, deserving of a yellow card in my opinion. Hodgson converted the penalty leaving the score at Saracens 10 Newcastle 3 at half time; a score that gave no indication of what was to come.
As I’ve mentioned before I think maybe shouty things happened at half time because a different Saracens returned to the pitch after the half time break! Richard Wigglesworth was the only substation by Saracens but something had changed. The first penalty was awarded to Saracens and Hodgson kicked the ball over to extend the lead. I’ve written in my notes ‘many kicks again’ as the frustrating kick and clap carried on for a while longer; Saracens are so much better with the ball in hand as was to be seen as they started to throw the ball about a bit. A further 3 points were scored by Hodgson to take the score to 16 to 3 and things were looking up.
Marcelo Bosch starting at outside centre put in a lovely kick, worthy of a rugby league play, for David Strettle who miraculously kept his feet in the field of play to score a great try. It took the TMO an age to decide his feet didn’t go over the whitewash something everyone else in the place seemed to be able to spot! But, 5 points it was, no added 2 as Hodgson hit the post.
Saracens were in try scoring mood and drove forward winning a number of penalties, I did begin to wonder if the ref had left his cards in the changing room at half time. The next try for Saracens was a forwards try, Jamie George being on the end of a rolling maul driven over the line, scoring tries is becoming a habit for the young Hooker. Another 5 points as Hodgson again hit the post. And now for my girl comment, goodness Jamie George and Charlie Hodgson must have picked their music as a joke… Very girlie stuff boys!
Half way to a bonus point, would the other 2 tries come? It did feel inevitable that they would; Saracens as well as Newcastle made several substitutions; 2 of the Saracens new boys combined as Schalk Brits made a great pass to Duncan Taylor; a player who has been a revelation this year! The ball went to Hodgson who changed the direction of play, the ball went to Fraser who passed to Andy Goode he then went in to score.; Hodgson converted this one sending the score to 33 to 3.
Several more changes saw Jacques Burger enter the fray and within moments of him being on the pitch there was a small episode of ‘handbags’ never a wise choice I feel when Burger is on the other side; no harm done and a penalty for Saracens. Charlie Hodgson was taken off, a very satisfactory first game back once he’d shaken out a few cobwebs; one of my ‘ones to watch’ Ben Ransom came on at fullback and Goode moved to fly half. Saracens final and bonus point try came after Nick Auterac won a ball from a messy Newcastle line out; Alex Goode made a great pass to Strettle who went in for his second try of the game. Goode converted a very difficult kick to take the final score to Saracens 40 Newcastle 3.
So, back to winning ways for Saracens, I really would love to be a fly on the wall during some of the half time ‘chats’ we now go into a break from the Premiership with the team from North London remaining at the top of the table. A hefty defeat for Newcastle but with positives to take from the first half for certain. LV Cup here we all come!