Saracens v Western Province – The Sanlam Challenge Shield

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Another weekend arrived in what seemed like a flash; that work thing that interrupts my rugby was busy and flew by!  My rugby weekend started with an early alarm to watch England RL play New Zealand – that got me shouting at the TV in a big way, rugby league tends t get me going that way!  England weren’t to beat the Kiwis; relying on Samoa to beat Australia to allow them to progress.  That unlikeliest of results wasn’t to be and so the final of the 4 Nations will be contested (again) by old rivals New Zealand and Australia.

Saturday afternoon found me at the England v All Blacks game; a very lucky position to be in.  The game was a good one, but again England fell short in spite of going in at half time with a lead.  The day was a mixed one for the Northern Hemisphere with Wales losing to Australia; Ireland beating South Africa; Scotland beating Argentina and France scoring a hatful against Fiji – Northern Hem 3 Southern Hem 2 then!

In a 6th meeting of the 2 Hemispheres Saracens took on Currie Cup winners Western Province in a bid to win the Sanlam Challenge Shield.  The South Africans bring a particular brand of rugby with them; physicality and speed as England will discover next Saturday.  Both Teams have international players away with their country; with the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen in the South Africa set up and Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Billy Vunipola and George Kruis on duty for England.

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Lots of Saracens fans question the sense of such a game in the midst of a busy season but it’s eminently clear that the players relish the thought of facing top class Southern Hemisphere opposition.  The game took place on Remembrance Sunday and that anniversary was given due respect; in addition Western Province were facing the loss of their former player, and Springbok Tinus Lince who lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease.  The last post was played and a very poignant minutes silence was well respected.

The game started in the manner in which it was to continue; with great intensity as Western Province went on the attack; they surged forward and looked likely to breach the Saracens line early on; they were awarded with a penalty for their efforts and Demetri Catrakilis put his team ahead.  A pattern emerged however as Saracens threw themselves into attack, Neil De Kock a former Western Province man seemed to appear from nowhere during one such attack; he passed to Chris Ashton who was tracking him; Ashton scored the home teams’ 1st try!  Charlie Hodgson, a player who has shown his innate class while at the club cooly added the extras.

 

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Now, Saracens have 2 wingmen who seem intent on showing the world what they can do; David Strettle wasn’t to be outdone by his opposite.  He regularly gives a masterclass in how to soar down your wing, evade defenders and score; this he did in great style!  A wingers try often means a difficult kick, thsi was no exception and Hodgson failed to add the extras.

Western Province didn’t travel all the way to England to be outdone; they hit back through Demetri Catrakalis who scored an exciting try as he ran through the Saracens defence; he failed to convert his own try but the gap was narrowed.  It was an exciting score well executed.

One feature all through the game were the running lines of the Western Province centres; they seemed to know instinctively where they needed to be to break through; even though the Saracens defence was generally up to the challenge it was an exciting brand of rugby.

A pattern was forming and just as the visitors saw some light so Chris Ashton extended the lead again as he scored his 2nd try; Hodgson was on song this time and scored the extra 2.

With 3 tries on the board by Saracens wingers Mouritz Botha thought he’d prove he could emulate their efforts. He collected the ball on the wing; which is of course where you expect to see a 2nd rower; he wasn’t to be stopped and he scored in the corner. Kickers must love it when so many tries are scored so far out; but Hodgson stepped up and slotted the ball over the posts.

 

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Half time came and the teams went in with the scores on Saracens 26 Western Province 8. Great rugby had been played in the afternoon sunshine by both teams.

The half time ‘break’ saw another poignant moment as Joost van der Westhuizen the former Blue Bulls and Springbok scrum half was pushed around the pitch in his wheelchair. He too is suffering the horrors of Motor Neurone Disease; the 1995 World Cup winner is widely regarded as one of the greatest at his position of all time. It was so very sad to see how MND destroys lives; hopefully the day will have raised a lot of money for Joost’s J9 foundation; a charity that raises awareness about the disease.

The teams emerged at half time to commence battle ands again Western Province started with a bang! Demetri Catrakilis added 7 points to both his team’s and his personal tally!  The try was again an exciting one much to the delight of the Western Province fans in the crowd.

 

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This game was never long without action and Will Fraser took what I can only presume was a ‘yellow for the team’ as he was penalised early in the half for failing to roll away. As a rule teams are made to pay for going down to 14, it wasn’t the case for the All Blacks on Saturday nor was it the case for Saracens. They added 2 penalties to their tally as they piled the pressure on, Hodgson slotted the ball over in style both times.

Will Fraser returned from the naughty step and his team hadn’t conceded a point; an impressive stat. Changes were made by both teams and a great kick down field by one such; Ben Spencer saw David Strettle bag his 2nd try on a great day for the Saracens wingers! I will just mention here; quietly, how this man hasn’t had a sniff of an England shirt recently I do not know!

Will Fraser turned from villain to hero as he scored Saracens 6th try – it will be no shock to hear Will found himself on the wing as the ball was fired out by Ben Ransom; who had a great game; Duncan Taylor had made a very sweet pass to Chris Wyles in the build up.

 

Couldn't resist a photo with the very elaborate Currie Cup
Couldn’t resist a photo with the very elaborate Currie Cup

The game finished with the score on Saracens 46 Western Province 22 ; the scoreline suggests a reasonably one sided game but Western Province most certainly played their part. I’m certain both teams will have learnt from what was a highly entertaining game. It was great to see one of the best teams from South Africa and I really look forward to the visit of the Blue Bulls in January.

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