Saracens v Bath Rugby – A key game!

The lunacy that is the 6 nations window – a time that sees many teams hugely depleted saw Saracens lying 3rd in the table take on Bath Rugby sitting 2nd above them.  If you were a casual rugby goer you’d struggle to see any weaknesses in either team as both fielded an impressive line up.

I’d been at Twickenham the day before and seen the scintillating pace and skill of 3 young Bath stars, George Ford, Anthony Watson and super try scorer Jonathan Joseph.  I certainly hope their places are cemented in the England set up.

With the exception of a cameo role by the in form Richard Wigglesworth the missing men were in the forwards – Billy Vunipola, who got his name on the scoresheet, Twickenham debutant George Kris who put in another good display and Billy’s big brother Mako who came on as a substitute.

With missing players  so opportunities appear – yes Sam Burgess – he who the press are totally obsessed with – was making a start. But also one Maro Itoje a man I’d have my eye on, making his 2nd Premiership start at 20.

In the same way that the Recreation Ground has become something of a fortress for Bath, so Allianz Park is building to be the same for Saracens. The surface is clearly noticeably different to the eye and of course bound to be different to play on. For one thing scrums are never spoilt by bad weather, snow as and when it’s arrived again has been no problem. But for visiting teams the bounce can take some getting used to. It’s a rare game that doesn’t see a fly half or scrum half hang his head as a kick goes scooting over the goal line!

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The teams emerged to a decent crowd and in a very touching moment a minutes silence was held for the victims of the crash in Bath that claimed 4 lives.  The silence was impeccably observed.

I sat in a different seat to my usual one – and do just have to comment that my word the lady behind me seemed to have it in for Chris Ashton, constantly moaning, very loudly about his positioning on the pitch.  One of the strengths of his game for Saracens is the way he roves around the pitch, linking with his opposite winger for example.  There is a reason he scores so many tries!

While I’m having a moan, it really is hard at times not to turn round and ask people to shuuuuush! I know all crowds have them but there seems to be far too many armchair referees at games.  All teams will give penalties, knock the ball on, make mistakes, the referee really is much closer to the action than us, yes they can make mistakes too,  but be realistic – your team is never 100% perfect!

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The teams exchanged possession for the 1st 9 minutes, the first flash of brilliance was shown by Ollie Devoto, he took a pass from Olly Woodbury after a high kick from Charlie Hodgson, he spotted space and ran straight through until Alex Goode stopped him in his tracks.

That move came to nothing however as Saracens regained the ball.  Charlie Hodgson took the ball under the Saracens posts to clear it, he managed to do so, but was flattened by Sam Burgess.  Something of a mis-match in stature!  I’m a big fan of Sam’s being rugby league mad, but I do worry about his tackling technique in union at times.

Bath took the lead through the boot of new signing Tom Homer by way of a penalty.  He’s a great signing for the West Country team, good for points from huge areas of the ground.

It seems to me that referees have had a new directive around the scrum, certainly since the start of the 6 Nations – they seem to be letting a lot more go as long as the ball emerges.  A case in point was a Saracens scrum, the ball was knocked on by Neil De Kock as it emerged, but there had been an infringement – the ref only blew once the knock on happened.  If that is the case it can only be a good thing for rugby union!

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Brad Barritt was next to feel the force of Sam Burgess as he kicked the ball away, I have no idea how these men get up after being hit by a steam roller!  The referee had signalled for a penalty earlier in the move and Charlie Hodgson evened up the scores.  3 apiece with 22 minutes on the clock, the first quartered been entertaining in spite of the low scoreline.

Saracens scored the first try of the game after the ball went through virtually the whole teams hands – Chris Wyles who excels wherever he’s asked to play scored in the corner.  Leroy Houston stepped out of the defensive line, allowing an overlap to appear.  Hodgson missed the conversion.

Saracens put the Bath defence under a lot of pressure keeping a lot of possession; Alex Goode took over the kicking duties from  a heavily bandaged Charlie Hodgson after 32 minutes, stretching the Saracens lead with a penalty.

Bath had a good attacking opportunity as forwards and backs combined, without getting on the Sam Burgess wagon too much it has to be very clear to defences that you really can’t stop him if you try to tackle high.  He has the typical build of a rugby league player, in fact to an extreme.  If you look at league players they tend to be very upright, they don’t need to go seeking the ball, also at the top level strong as an ox to a man.  Burgess personifies that stereotype to me, tackle his legs!!

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We had one of those controversial moments when Chris Wyles kicked a ball forward, Tom Homer and Chris Wyles were running together for the ball, it looked as if Homer pushed Wyles from the stands, but the TMO looked again and again and it was deemed that they were shoulder to shoulder.  Again a crowd moan – and yes it is happening at every ground – I so don’t agree with the off, off cries, particularly for something that was in effect nothing.

The teams went in at half time with the score on Saracens 11 Bath Rugby 3.

One thing I’ve noticed about Bath is that Mike Ford their Head Coach isn’t remote during the game, he spends at least a half on the touchline – at times it looks like he might join in!  He lives and breaths the game.

Alex Goode kicked another penalty 2 minutes into the 2nd half – Goode has been in great form for his team- with Mike Brown at risk of not appearing for England I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on the England team sheet.

After Saracens had gone on a huge rolling maul, Jackson Wray made a great break for Saracens after Tim Streather on in Duncan Taylor’s place had forged the way laying the ball back it went across to Charlie Hodgson, he passed to Chris Ashton – who – hold on lady behind –  me was on the opposite wing – passed the ball just at the right time to Jamie George who went in to score.

Alex Goode added the extras with a great kick – Saracens had added 10 points in 5 minutes, it was a wonder Mike Ford didn’t join the fray.

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Except Ollie Devoto made another of his breaks, passing to Semesa Rokoduguni who scored what must have been one of his easiest tries so far this season.  An easy kick for Tom Homer took Bath to 10.

We had a very exciting first 10 minutes added to by Chris Ashton running on to a superb kick by Alex Goode, he scored with obvious joy!  One of the nicest things about watching this team is seeing the camaraderie when a try’s scored.  The kick was a difficult one but scored by Goode.

Bath showed incredible strength in the scrum when Saracens had the put in very close to the Bath line – it was great to hear the applause as Nick Auterac formerly of Saracens was substituted after the scrum that allowed relieving penalty.

The next score after a forward pass by Devoto was all Saracens and this time in a points scoring position.  It looked like the deal was done with a lead of 21 points for the home team.

However Bath had other plans – Saraces withheld a lot of pressure on their line with before Neil De Kock cleared the ball after another strong rolling maul.  With 13 minutes remaining it was hard to see how Bath would close the gap.

But close it they did – but not before a spine chilling (for this wimp) thing happened – Kelly Brown had his dislocated finger put into place and simply carried on playing! In the stands you couldn’t see that – on the replay?  Ouch!

A series of penalties gave Bath the territory they needed – Kyle Eastmond threw a neat pass to Olly Woodburn who ran in to touch down – the TMO was asked to look at the run made by Burgess which was deemed to be fine.  The referee over ruled the opinion of the TMO which was interesting to hear.  I’d say he made the right decision, but I can also see why others might disagree.  The conversion took Bath to 17.

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Saracens had made lots of changes by this point and the wonderful Eastmond made a break through a number of black shirts – he passed to Rokoduguni who scored his 2nd try – the conversion by Homer took the score to Saracens 31 Bath 24 – losing bonus point territory at least.

A nail biting final 6 minutes ensued with Bath having had the momentum.  A penalty awarded against Bath settled some of those nerves.  Saracens used the rolling maul again and Dominic Day was penalised giving Goode the chance to snatch away the bonus point and seal the win.

Goode scored the points taking the score to Saracens 34 Bath 24 – that was how the game finished.  A really entertaining 2nd half of rugby saw the home team close the gap at the top of the table.  Saracens travel away to Sale and in this crazy window Bath face Northampton Saints at home.  Very unfortunate for them to face 1st and 3rd at this time within a week.

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