Saracens Storm v Exeter Braves – Rugby on a School Night?
Having had a pretty full weekend of sport Monday suddenly appeared, funny how it comes around so quickly when the weekend’s a cracker! I’d had an email from Saracens listing all of the A League fixtures, Monday is meeting evening – but not for the visit of the Braves! The sensible me said go home after work, maybe have a gym session then an early night; the sports mad me said – it’s a beautiful evening and RUGBY!! So off to Allianz Park I went, it was rude not to; words I seem to say more and more all the time when it comes to my sport watching antics! Saracens were fielding a strong team, a mix of youth and experience with Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert both starting. One snag was there was no room for food! Thank goodness the lovely men serving hot chocolate and cookies! Not an athlete’s dinner I must admit, but very nice! There were a decent number of people at the ground to watch what turned out to be a very entertaining game.
I was hoping we’d have a repeat of the successful scrummaging which had been on display at the Double Header but the 1st attempt was reset then a penalty awarded to the Braves. A huge hit by Hayden Smith ensured that the visitors didn’t benefit from the penalty, the ball was dislodged and Ben Spencer put in a kick, Jack Wilson took the ball, passing to Nick Tompkins who scored the 1st try of the evening. Ben Spencer who clearly had his kicking boots on added the extras. The next scrum saw what I’ve noted as messing – time consuming is what I mean; it’s an aspect of the game that does rugby union no favours whatsoever when scrums don’t work! Greg Bateman playing at Hooker for the Braves had a great run looking more like a light footed winger, his efforts were to no avail however as a penalty was awarded to Saracens as the ball was held in the ruck. Ben Spencer added 3 points to his tally. Saracens made one of their few mistakes during the game when they allowed the kick off to sail over the heads of the man in the air; the ball was knocked on. Saracens were then deemed to be offside after the scrum and Lawrence May kicked the ball cleanly to put Exeter on the score board.
Maro Itoje captain for Saracens added insult to an actual injury when he chose to pile on top of an injured ‘Brave’ purely accidental, but ouch! The next try was a forwards try; Matt Hankin was the beneficiary of a great rolling maul by Saracens, they very quickly found the try line after taking the ball from a line out. An easier kick for Spencer, he slotted the ball over the posts. The next try was a virtual copy of the last, a line out near the Exeter line, a Saracens rolling maul – this time Jacques Burger emerged the try scorer! Spencer added the 2 points with a great kick! His next kick wasn’t so good however as his clearance was charged down, Exeter attacked with determination winning several penalties as Saracens went offside. Exeter took the choice of a scrum after one such penalty, they were then awarded a free kick, the next scrum ‘worked’ and Greg Bateman scored for the Braves. Lawrence May added the extras. The next notable piece of action was what can only be described as an enormous hit by one Jacques Burger on a poor Exeter Back, it must have been horrendous for him! I think I’d turn and run the other way if Burger was running at me! But clearly you can’t do that as a player, the hit was taken and the player survived. Having been wrecking ball Jacques Burger turned Winger to score his 2nd try after a great break by Maro Itoje. Burger was clearly pleased with his rather spectacular try and he went over the line a la Ashton with a swan dive. The kick was form the touch line but that presented no problems for Ben Spencer, the ball sailed over the posts and the teams went in with the scores on Saracens 31 Exeter 10.
The 2nd half started with the backs determined to get in on the try scoring action again. I was impressed with the interaction between the backs all through the game and the 1st try of the half was no exception. Tim Streather passed the ball out to Mike Ellery who put his foot on the pedal; he got the ball to Ben Spencer who in turn passed to Nick Tompkins who went in for his 2nd score of the game. Spencer added the 2 points. Much to the dismay of the few hardy Exeter fans the ball sailed straight out from the kick off, not what you want to see as a team when you’re under the cosh. The next try was made by the forwards but scored by Mike Ellery, Maro Itoje made another great run only to be held up, the ball found Ellery after another neat pass by Tim Streather. The try was very well taken by Ellery he used his strength to get the ball down. Nils Mordt had his 1st kick at goal from near the touch line, it hit the posts. Exeter won a penalty and chose to kick to touch; with a line out in the corner that had seen 2 tries scored by Saracens the routine was repeated and they rolled over for a try; Brett Sturgess getting his name on the score sheet. Lawrence May converted the try. Their positive was undone by a mess up from the kick off, Mike Ellery benefited, scoring his 2nd try of the evening. This time Mordt was successful, his kick taking Saracens to 50 points. The only yellow of the game was shown after a clumsy high tackle by Hughes (sorry Mr Hughes, no team sheet so no 1st name!). However the result of the card wasn’t the usual score for the team with 15 men; with a real show of character it was Exeter who had the last word after a great break by their No 8 (sorry no name). Mike Ellery again showed his pace and caught his man, but he passed the ball out to Sam Simms who scored the try. Lawrence May converted the try to take the score at the final whistle to Saracens Storm 50 Exeter Braves 24.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening with some great rugby on show, it was good to see the young players excelling as well as the ‘old hands’ playing at their best. One thing that did leave me feeling some concern for the season ahead was the fact that there were a lot of substitutions made but Nils Mordt played the whole 80 minutes. With Owen Farrell likely to be away on international duty for large parts of the season It’s a worry that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘bright young thing’ waiting in the wings.