And so we came to the final regular home game of the 2013/14 season for Saracens, a game likely to be condemning Worcester Warriors to the Championship next season. After one of the performances of the year at Twickenham last week across any of the competitions this season it was possible that the foot could come off the pedal for the home team; Worcester have performed well against Saracens in recent years, so no foregone conclusions before the game. My day started in to say the least a lazy way! A spot of Super 15 rugby while I ate my breakfast that of course had to be watched to its conclusion, a read of my book – The Son by Philipp Meyer and last but not least a soak in the bath with a good old sing along! My poor neighbours got a good 45 minutes of me singing at the top of my voice as I got ready too; it just has to be done! The singing continued for a further hour as I drove to Mill Hill, no one else had to hear any of that so all good for them. I parked up in the station car park, bought my lunch in M & S and walked to the shuttle bus. That whole journey’s taken some getting used to but it’s not bad at all, the only nasty part is the teetering on heels across the stone path leading to the ground! Never a good look, tarmac would be nice next season! Allianz Park has come to feel like home over this season and thanks to the wonders of twitter in particular people are getting to know each other in a way that wouldn’t have happened in Watford. Good things happening all around the club!
It might have been expected that Saracens would make lots of changes from the team who’d played in the Heineken Cup semi-final, but amongst the backs the only starting change was Richard Wigglesworth starting swapping the bench position with Neil De Kock. In the forwards Matt Stevens swapped places with James Johnston, Jackson Wray with Kelly Brown and the only 2 players rested totally Steve Borthwick and Jacques Burger were replaced with Alistair Hargreaves (Captain) and to the delight of the home crowd Will Fraser. A natural number 7 Will has been blighted by injury in the last few years; breaking his leg in the game against Sale in December, it was good to see him run out to start a game. Tim Wigglesworth, the man who was key in reducing Gloucester to 11 men against Bath recently, was the referee for the day. Ryan Lamb started the game with a kick that in effect went straight into touch, the officials showed a worrying lack of knowledge of the rules by going for a straight line out; something changed their minds and a scrum was awarded back on the halfway line for Saracens. I have to say, and this is very early, oh my word that started the ‘former pro-player’ know everything fans sitting near me off on a rant that pretty much continued for the whole game! One of these days I’m going to have to ask if one person in particular finds watching rugby enjoyable! It is to say the least irritating!
Saracens first try came after a mere 5 minutes after Mako Vunipola ran through after a tap tackle, quick hands by Marcelo Bosch, on to Alex Goode then out to David Strettle saw the winger run in to touch the ball down. Alex Goode with kicking duties again for the afternoon converted with a great kick. Worcester went on the attack, with scrum half Johnny Arr kicking the ball forward, Billy Vunipola made a lazy, slightly late tackle on Arr giving away a penalty duly converted by Alex Lamb. Not to be left out Chris Ashton ran in a try after the ball was passed out to him from a scrum – watch out for scrum rants a little later! Goode kicked what looked like a good kick; shame was it didn’t go through the posts! However he made amends a few minutes later after a penalty was awarded to Saracens; the score moved on to Saracens 15 Warriors 3 after 17 minute; things weren’t looking good for the visitors. A further very promising attack by Saracens was foiled when Schalk Brits uncharacteristically chose not to pass, the ball came back o Owen Farrell who passed to Matt Stevens but a penalty was awarded to Worcester for crossing. Farrell gave away a soft penalty to Warriors as he impeded David Lemi, a light touch but still an illegal one, Lamb kicked to touch but the ball was lost and cleared by Richard Wigglesworth.
We had a quiet spell after a fairly intense start with not too much to report, Worcester were awarded a penalty for a lineout infringement, the kick landed unfortunately on the head of one of the crowd standing at the side of the pitch; always a good idea to keep your eye on the ball at all times! Now we’re getting close to the point where I’m going to have a rant, Worcester had a decent attack that saw David Lemi run on to a ball kicked forward; Chris Ashton beat him to it but despite his best efforts was tackled in the in goal area. So, a scrum with the put in for Worcester; now then I’m a big rugby league fan as well as union and am frequently told by fellow union fans that they won’t give league house room because it’s boring. What happened for the next 10 minutes or so was in fact like watching paint dry! I actually don’t have the will to relive what actually happened but it involved penalty after penalty, a yellow card for Rhys Gill, yet no penalty try? And endless resets, it seemed to go on for an age! BORING in the extreme! My notes say? Incredibly boring and bad for rugby union. Poor officiating? I’d say so, if a card was shown when the scrum was close to the opposing line I would have said a penalty try should have been awarded to Worcester then we could have got on with the rest of the game! As it went Saracens were awarded a penalty to put us all out of the misery that is a seemingly endless scrum! However it was Worcester who scored next after a neat pass by Ryan Lamb to Chris Pennell, who scored what was to be a deserved try for his game performance; Lamb added the extras. Saracens had the last word of the half after a very clever piece of play by Marcelo Bosch who finding himself isolated twisted and turned until he had an opportunity to pass to Richard Wigglesworth, he in turn passed to Jackson Wray who scored the 5 points, Goode added the extras. The teams went in with the scores on Saracens 22 Worcester 10.
The second half started with a great effort by David Strettle preventing Warriors from attacking, the ball was kicked away and taken by Billy Vunipola, and he made good ground but knocked on as he took a return pass from Farrell. Chris Pennell showed incredible determination and strength during a further Saracens attack when he only just took the ball on his own line, he kept himself in the field of play, but was taken into touch by a determined Saracens attack. Saracens were in a good attacking position but Warriors won a penalty in the lineout as they did in the resulting lineout with Jackson Wray being singled out for interfering. The kick at goal was missed; Alex Goode made no such mistake after a penalty awarded to Saracens was converted after they pushed the Warriors off the ball. Chris Ashton added to his try tally after he scored from a ball coming out of a ruck, from my view there could have been a suspicion of a double movement but the ref decided to forgo the video ref and awarded the try; the conversion was unsuccessful. A point worthy of writing down I felt in that a scrum awarded was won by Warriors on the first attempt! They attacked but held on to the ball giving a penalty to Saracens; to a degree the story of their game for long periods. Saracens had several concerted attacks and had a penalty pending, they played on and went through the phases, Jackson Wray scored his second try of the game, Alex Goode converted. Saracens had a spell of attacking at will, and Marcelo Bosch went over the try line; however Lab had been deemed to have knocked on deliberately in the build-up, a Saracens player had also knocked on so Lamb was shown a card and Saracens awarded a scrum. Saracens wheeled the scrum round and that man Jackson Wray picked the ball up to run in for his hat trick try! Alex Goode widened the gap to take the score to Saracens 44 Worcester 10.
An interesting 11 minutes remained when Will Fraser had to leave the field, with all of Saracens’ substitutions having been made they went down to 14 men, that was to get worse as there was a ‘flurry’ of cards coming Saracens way. Several penalties for Worcester put them in a great attacking position and replacement Semisi Taulava used his strength to spin round and score, the conversion hit the posts. David Strettle was to be sent to take an early bath as he was shown a yellow card and Neil De Kock joined him not long after having been shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, the home team were down to 12 men! Worcester took advantage of the their numerical superiority with Chris Pennell getting his name on the score card again, no extras added however as the ball missed the posts. The game finished with the 12 men attacking, a win for Saracens with the score at Saracens 44 Worcester 20. Northampton’s draw against Bath had ensured that Saracens would finish top of the league, with a game to go they have done so with a record number of points scored in a season. That game is next week against Leicester Tigers their potential Semi Final opponents; the season has been an amazing one so far, with a Heineken Cup Final place booked a place in the Premiership is after the weekly rounds a game away. The dream of two major trophies is still alive and well!