Having survived a weekend with no live sport round two of the back to back Heineken Cup games arrived. Where would I find myself with only two weekends before Christmas to go? Why, watching two live games of course! The first being my team Saracens return fixture against Zebre and the second Harlequins looking for a double win over the superstars of Racing Metro. I was to see two very different games! But first some match build up, my morning started with a visit to the Post Office to pick up some overseas post? How could I have forgotten what would be in the envelope? My ticket to the France v England 6 Nations game in February! That had me ecstatic; much to my sons’ disgust who thinks his sports loving Mum is slightly mad and more than a bit weird! My day carried on in that positive way with the M25 being fairly kind considering the date; I had a pre-game lunch in the posh West Hampstead with my lovely friend and fellow Saracens fan Sarah before we made our way to the ground.
The ‘home’ loss to Toulouse meant that only a bonus point win against the Italian team would do and although Saracens had won with a healthy 39 points in Italy nothing could be taken for granted. Billy Vuniploa found himself under a high ball after Zebre returned the ball after the kick off in the same way he did a few times last week; however he had found his catching hand for this game and took the ball well. A penalty for offside was awarded early on against Zebre and Owen Farrell stepped up to put the first 3 points on the board.
Saracens first try came after first Billy Vunipola then Owen Farrell backed themselves to run through, followed by a great pass from Ben Ransom playing at fullback to David Strettle, who’s having a great season, the winger ran in to place the ball down. The try was awarded after a check by the video ref for a forward pass. Being a good wingers’ score the conversion was virtually on the touchline but Farrell stepped up and scored the 2 points with little effort. The build up to the next try for Saracens involved a great looping pass from Billy Vunipola linking with Ben Ransom again; my match notes say ‘Billy multi-talented today’ the England back row forward is going from strength to strength at Saracens. Zebre were again penalised in the ruck and Farrell kicked a great kick to the corner; the lineout won the Saracens forwards drove the ball over the line, a victorious Jacques Burger scoring the 5 points. Farrell missed the conversion again from the touchline but the score was creeping up at 15 nil.
The penalty count continued to rise against Zebre and a yellow card was brandished when the flanker Nicola Cattini took George Kruis out in the lineout. Another Saracens lineout another rolling maul with a try being scored by Jamie George; this meant again a touchline kick for Farrell, who added the 2 points this time. So ¾ of the way to a bonus point; this was to come on 29 minutes as Chris Ashton again on form for his club and Duncan Taylor combined to put Richard Wigglesworth in to score an exciting try! An easier conversion this time for Farrell took the score to 29 nil. The Italians were next to post a score as Luciano Orquera converted a penalty. The teams went in at half time with the score at Saracens 29 Zebre 3.
In Italy last week the second half fell rather flat as Saracens dropped the pressure; the boys clearly decided that wasn’t going to happen a second time! Another good run by Billy Vunipola who passed to an incredibly speedy Jamie George saw the hooker running like a pretty boy back, he passed to Ben Ransom who was on his shoulder and the young fullback ran in under the posts. Owen Farrell rarely misses a kick and of course really never in front of the posts – Saracens 36 Zebre 3. Jamie George proved his status as a hard man forward by making an awesome tackle that left a Zebre player struggling and the ref checking for foul play, the replay proved it was just a hard tackle; it never ceases to amaze me that rugby players get up after such a battering! Richard Wigglesworth became provider next after taking a quick tap penalty to send Duncan Taylor in to score, the conversions continued and the score moved to a hefty 43 for Saracens.
A word for the forwards here as I read my notes from the game and as usual really now he’s back I’ve typed ‘scary tackles by Burger’ the man is a tackling machine! The big 5oh was brought up after another exciting display by the Saracens backs as Marcelo Bosch impressing at outside centre and Duncan Taylor passed to each other with the final pass sending the Scotsman in to score. Taylor worryingly limped off after the try, yet another casualty at centre, hopefully not a long lasting problem, we’re running out of them! The forwards clearly felt the backs had enough of the glory and after a great run through by replacement hooker and crowd favourite Schalk Brits, Billy Vunipola topped what was a great game for him to spot the gap and run in a try. Owen Farrell increased his personal tally taking the score to what felt like a slightly crazy 57 to 3.
Zebre pressed for a try as time was running out and for the first time in the game pressed the Saracens defence; they looked to have scored but as he did a few times during the game the ref got in the way and the try was disallowed. That felt like a bit of a shame for the visitors, but rules is rules! Jackson Wray was binned during this attacking phase, ironically virtually at the same time he was announced Man of the Match! The 14 manSaracens defence held out and were awarded a penalty after time was up; the crowd were on their way out presuming the ball would be kicked into touch; but oh no more agony was to be piled on the poor Italians. I was looking elsewhere so can’t really say how the ball ended up in the hands of Chris Ashton but I did stand and watch in awe as he ran the length of the pitch to make his infamous swallow dive over the Zebre line to score! It was a sight to behold and the rest of the team were clearly chuffed for him. Ashton made it easy for Farrell and he converted to see the game finish at Saracens 64 Zebre 3.
On the face of it that is a magnificent score without a doubt – but, it also shows a lot of what is wrong with the current Heineken Cup set up. Connacht couldn’t repeat there amazing victory over Toulouse but the huge scoreline sees Saracens top the table at the end of the 2013 games. The remaining games will decide who progresses; the team from North London face a tough trip to France in January!