Saracens v Leicester – No Muddy Pitch Here!

After a fortnight of Heineken Cup rugby which had seen both English teams benefit from back to back victories albeit different in style on the second weekend with Saracens posting a huge 64 points to Zebre’s 3 and Leicester scraping a 15 to 14 victory against Montpellier in France.  My day started with one of my other favourite games, cricket, first a spot of Big Bash where we’re seeing English men scoring runs in Oz!  Proving it is possible!  Then a taste of the South Africa v India Test where the Indian team are proving they’ll be tough opposition for England in the summer!  I set off bright and early to Allianz Park in shocking weather expecting to see an attritional low scoring game due to the conditions, in spite of the fact there would be no muddy pitch the wind and rain was likely to have a big effect on both teams.  As is my way before a rugby game I had a civilised Costa in Mill Hill Broadway and watched hoards of people head to the shuttle buses; the promised sell-out crowd was on its way!  And so it proved when I arrived at Allianz Park to a packed bar; as someone who’s a tad vertically challenged it was a bit too full in the bar so my first stop was to the shop to buy the hat to stop my wayward hair from running my rugby watching!  I was to be very grateful for that decision!

photo1 (6)The teams emerged to a crowd of 9,999 a figure that lost me my bet with my neighbour my guess was 9,997! I must confess Saracens crowd announcements always amuse me for some reason.  It was clear a fair few fans were to face a horrible afternoon standing in torrential rain; I had no idea how horrible that afternoon was to be for the Tigers fans!  Both teams have their share of injury problems, from a Saracens perspective it feels like we’re running out of flankers and centres – we keep breaking them; in fact a last minute change saw Tim Streather come on at 13 in place of Marcelo Bosch.  Streather was the top try scorer in the Championship last season so it was good to see him get a Premiership start.

The referee for the day was Wayne Barnes – a man who can have mixed games to say the least, the first penalty was awarded against a clearly offside Owen Farrell giving Leicester a good attacking platform.  Watching the game again on the TV I was quite surprised to hear that Tigers hadn’t practised on a similar playing surface that may have proved to be a poor decision.  Saracens had an issue under the high ball several times during the game and Alex Goode spilled a ball but luckily into Richard Wiggleworth’s hands and the home team surged forward.  A combination involving quick play by both backs and forwards saw Jack Wilson replacing David Strettle on the wing reach over to score in the corner.  The kicking machine that is Owen Farrell stepped up to convert the try.

Billy Vunipola who has grown incredibly since he joined Saracens had one of his ball spilling moments from the kick off to put his team under pressure, however a strange grubber kick by Ryan Lamb was collected by Saracens allowing Wigglesworth to clear the ball. Saracens were awarded a penalty after another good attacking spell and with a little help from Kelly Brown Farrell slotted the ball over.  Both teams as well as the officials made errors in the next period of play, I generally always wonder what touch judges are for, Alex Goode clearly knocked the ball over the line yet a lineout was awarded to Saracens – very bizarre!  What was clear at 19 minutes was that Saracens were playing at a much quicker pace and moving up as a unit however they gave away a penalty in a very good attacking position as Billy Vunipola took out a Leicester player. Owen Farrell made an uncharacteristic mistake in kicking the ball over the dead ball line to give Tigers a scrum deep in the Saracens half.  After much messing about at the scrum Billy V went offside to give a penalty which was converted by Ryan Lamb; a difficult kick against the wind well taken.

photo2 (6)There was a huge meeting of the 10’s in the middle of the pitch as Owen Farrell took out Ryan Lamb; it was clearly only me who thought the tackle was a tad high and lacking in arms round the body.  Saracens built a good attacking platform after a great kick by Owen Farrell was inexplicably touched by Ed Slater; 3 points was the result as Tigers went offside near their own line.  Tigers were awarded a penalty in the ruck but Lamb missed on this occasion.  Farrell was, however  to gift Tigers a try with 36 minutes on the clock as Graham Kitchener charged down a low kick to run under the posts and score; Lamb converted the easy kick.  I tend to disagree with Austin Healey that this meant Tigers would go in at half time with a massive advantage – they were still behind!  Kitchener was in fact to turn the advantage firmly towards Saracens as he was sin binned after a late and dangerous tackle on Farrell.  Again Austin probably needed to think before he spoke as the tackle was clearly illegal.  Certainly not deserving of a red as shouted by some of my fellow Saracens fans and asked for by Steve Borthwick.  Saracens took advantage of the situation as Farrell cleverly switched the play over to Chris Wyles – Wyles passed to Chris Ashton and I do have to say, I thought the pass was forward from the stands and I still do from the TV replay.  The replay on BT Sport shows the touch judge clearly in line however and many replays, but…….   Saracens went in leading by 18 points to 10 as Farrell missed a difficult conversion.  8 points didn’t feel a big enough gap considering how much Saracens dominated the half and bearing in mind this was Leicester!

However any worries were most definitely unfounded, Saracens made a change at half time in the front row as Mako Vunipola joined the fray for Saracens.  Tigers came out with the wind in their favour and attacked well until Ben Youngs kicked a ball straight out to give Saracens a chance to get back into the Tigers half.  The home team attacked firstly with a strong drive by the forwards then a great break by Wigglesworth passing to Wyles who combined with Wilson; Wigglesworth picked the ball up from the ruck and provided a pass to Billy Vunipola who was unstoppable as the Tigers forwards seemed to be strolling back into position.  Farrell converted the try to widen the gap to 15 points.  Play was stopped by a very nasty looking injury to substitute Terrence Hepetema as he seemed to try to tackle Billy V with his head!  It did feel rather harsh to see a penalty awarded for a no arms tackle against a player who had to leave the field with after the resulting injury. Farrell converted the penalty to take the score to Saracens 25 Leicester 10. I have to say at this point – Austin Healey – try being a neutral when you’re commentating rather than an ex Leicester player!

photo3 (4)Saracens surged forward with 13 phases of play but gave a penalty away as the replacement hooker Tom Youngs intervened in the ruck.  Tom Youngs if he can sort out his throwing is a truly talented player!  James Johnson replaced Matt Stevens and managed to give away a penalty in the scrum after more of the boring messing around putting Tigers in a god attacking position.  However a moment of hot headed stupidity saw Ben Youngs give a penalty away as he shoved Steve Borthwick to the ground away from play; sorry Austin you can’t grab a man by the neck and throw him to the ground even if he is in the way. A spell of play approaching 60 minutes saw Leicester attacking, with several penalties awarded against Saracens near their own line, it felt like a card might be brandished and Wayne Barnes did warn Borthwick; however the forwards won possession to reclaim the advantage.  Billy V lost the ball after picking it up at the base of the scrum giving Tigers a great attacking platform as Miles Benjamin surged forward, that attack was however repelled.  Tigers continued to attack but Saracens were determined to keep them out.  Matthew Tait was I thought a bright spark for Leicester and showed his credentials as he caught a ball hacked up field.  There were some very worrying moments as Owen Farrell clattered to the ground, clearly unconscious, after hitting his head on Miles Benjamin’s hip.  We now need to see him on the side-lines as he must have suffered a concussion injury.

Charlie Hodgson who has been brilliant since he joined Saracens replaced Farrell and Jackson Wray also entered the field.  Play resumed with a scrum for Saracens and Neil De Kock surged down the field from after taking the ball from Billy V, he passed to Jackson Wray who scored Saracens fourth try with his first touch of the ball.  Neil De Kock made a huge kick down field during the next passage of play running like the wind to chase it up putting Miles Benjamin under pressure – he knocked on.  A second yellow was shown to a Leicester player as Thomas Waldroum came in at the side of the ruck; Saracens chose to take a scrum and surged over the line.  This is why I’m now very confused as Mako V seemed to score a try but a penalty try was awarded?  Does that go down as one for the Saracens man?  And why was a penalty try awarded??  Borthwick seemed to wind up a few Leicester players and some handbags ensued; again I have to take issue with Austin Healey, his words ‘let’s hope someone catches him with more than a handbag, he’s a Norse (?) gets on my nerves’.  Very impartial Austin – thank goodness for Lawrence Dallaglio!  Healey had no idea what was said and done by who, during that incident!

Saracens rubbed salt into the Tigers wounds with a final try as Neil De Kock again became provider with a pass to Chris Ashton after Jamie George broke away from the ruck.  Hodgson added the 2 points from the touchline to take the score to the incredible final result of Saracens 49 Leicester Tigers 10.  I believed Saracens would win the game I could never imagined such a score!  Leicester is a great club with talented players and will bounce back of that I have no doubt!  And to my Tigers Leicester twitter friends?  The kit?  Nope sorry much the same as Saracens away get up?  Not a good look.

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