Having been lucky enough to have the chance to be in the press/media area for the 11th Double Header I had a bit of a decision to make. My initial intention was to watch the Saracens game as a fan then make my way to the gantry for the London Irish v Quins game. But I took the decision to watch both in one of the best seats in the house. Hopefully I don’t write in a way that makes it obvious that I’m a Saracens fan, watching the game in such a way had the potential to be problematical. No shouting at the ref or jumping up and down when tries were scored. Another wonderful knock on from being in the ‘Media Area’ was that I got to meet Ian Robertson, one of the voices of rugby on BBC Radio; I’m hoping for an interview opportunity at some stage. 42 years of commentary and a playing career would I’m certain make a very interesting read!
Andy Goode kicked off with the ball being returned by Alex Goode, things could well get confusing! Alex Goode called the mark moments later, a rule I really hate, it stops all momentum. However the move worked for Saracens as Andy Goode knocked the ball on rather than let it go out. The 1st scrum worked 1st time; which was pretty amazing; having watched rugby league all summer I was hoping I’d have less need for the word reset during this Premiership season! Saracens gave away any advantage by conceding a penalty in the midfield. Wasps knocked on and we saw a 2nd successful scrum! Saracens were awarded a penalty as Wasps failed to roll away in the ruck. Charlie Hodgson, starting ahead of Owen Farrell, kicked for touch. Saracens spread the ball across the field and seemed to be in space, Alex Goode was wrapped up in the tackle but passed the ball back to Hodgson who put in a neat kick, the ball bounced kindly for Chris Ashton who scored the 1st try of the game. Hodgson added the extras.
Wasps were handed a 10 minute advantage after a moment of madness by the experienced flanker Kelly Brown after less than 15 minutes; he reached through the middle of a ruck and knocked the ball out of Joe Simpson’s hands! A 10 minute rest after the yellow card was handed to him! Alex Goode scored 3 points with a great kick from distance. Saracens were handed a scoring opportunity moments later; Charlie Hodgson took Saracens to 10 points with his kick. Wasps went on the attack and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts; Chris Ashton had made a clumsy high tackle earlier but Wasps played on; they were then awarded a 2nd penalty, Andy Goode scored the 3 points.
Saracens had the penalty returned from the kick off as Wasps failed to release the ball, Hodgson scored. Wasps had a great attacking opportunity spreading the ball across the pitch; Alex Goode covered well and the ball was then intercepted by Duncan Taylor. Richard Wigglesworth kicked the ball on and David Strettle benefitted from Rob Miller being unable to take the ball, Strettle kicked the ball on, running in to score. The one man advantage hadn’t been the disaster it can often be for the team with the man in the bin. Charlie Hodgson took the score to Saracens 20 Wasps 6.
Andy Goode made a great break for Wasps, passing to Ashley Johnson, Christian Wade looked as if he may break for the line but a last moment tap tackle stopped him. George Kruis was penalised for being offside and Andy Goode kicked another 3 points for Wasps. James Haskell pointed out to Andrew Smal,l the referee that Saracens were in his opinion making some cynical moves; would another card be brandished? We had a spell of rugby tennis, with Rob Miller finding touch at last! Jamie George got his throw wrong and the ball missed the whole lineout; James Haskell was slightly surprised by the ball landing at his feet and knocked on. Carlo Festuccia made the same mistake as he threw in for Wasps with Saracens winning the ball; they lost the ball however then gave away a penalty; Wasps kicked to touch this time; a crunching tackle by Duncan Taylor on Elliot Daly saw him drop the ball and put an end to a promising Wasps attack. The 1st penalty from a scrum was awarded after 35 minutes as Saracens Billy Vunipola kept the ball in as the scrum was wheeled around. For me that was a real positive after watching scrum after scrum reset last season. Charlie Hodgson missed a kick with 3 minutes of the half remaining after Wasps transgressed at the ruck. Billy Vunipola was very lucky to get away with being offside after he failed to catch the ball, he clearly touched it, but when Mr Small checked with his touch judge he said no? Was he not watching? Richard Wigglesworth kicked the ball out to finish what has to be said wasn’t a thrilling half of rugby!
Charlie Hodgson took his place to restart the game only to be told ‘we’ve just go to wait for the TV! The 1st significant moment of the 2nd half was an unusual lack of concentration on Hodgson’s part as he knocked the ball on; we saw the 1st instance of a scrum reset. Wasps took advantage of a break by Joe Simpson from the scrum, he ran through, choosing not to pass to Christian Wade on his outside who was well covered by David Strettle; the ball went out to Nathan Hughes???? Who ran in to score an easy try, unbothered by Saracens defenders. Andy Goode added the extras to close the gap to 4. Saracens seemed to have come out of the tunnel half asleep; they gave away a free kick at the scrum for basically messing about; then a penalty for offside as Wasps attacked. Wasps started the half with far greater intent. Christian Wade scored a great try as Chris Ashton failed to deal with a kick through by Andy Goode. Ashton and Wade met shoulder to shoulder with Wade finding his way to the ball. Andy Goode kicked the ball to the right of the posts; but Wasps took the lead by a point. Ashton seemed to labour the point on having met with Wade, but they were running in the same direction and Wade was well within his rights.
Wasps were next to score with what could well turn out to be one of the trys of the season after a kick through by Ashley Johnson; seeing Christian Wade storming through outside him he put in a perfectly weighted kick. Christian Wade ran through and took the ball under the posts to extend the Wasps lead. Andy Goode with an easy kick scored the 2 points taking the score to Saracens 20 Wasps 28. Earlier in the attack Chris Ashton tried to ‘tackle’ with his shoulder; not quite the same as his earlier clash with Wade it was illegal and ineffective! Saracens however hit back through David Strettle’s 2nd try after he’d made a break; Owen Farrell on the field for Hodgson added the extras to make it a 1 point game. Saracens wasted an attacking opportunity after a poor pass by Ben Spencer; they then gave a penalty away giving Andy Goode an opportunity to put his team in a great position. At this point I’m going to highlight my bah humbug credentials – a one point game and the crowd started a Mexican wave! Watch the game!! It was great to see Ashley Johnson playing fullback as Saracens sent the ball up the field; his returning kick wasn’t so good.
Ashley Johnson was very lucky not to receive a yellow for a deliberate knock on with 6 minutes remaining; I hate the rule but it’s there and generally adhered to. Saracens won a penalty from the resulting scrum and Owen Farrell elected to kick from what was a long way out with an added complication of being virtually on the touch line. The kick was unsuccessful; it was disappointing to hear whistles as he was taking the kick in spite of the fact they wouldn’t have affected Farrell. Wasps could almost smell victory as the ball was knocked on by Saracens, they had 3.5 minutes to hold out with possession theirs; it was ‘up the jumper’ time. However they chose to attack and lost the ball through a penalty; Saracens won the lineout through Jim Hamilton and played the running rugby they’re capable of; a great pass by Ben Spencer who hadn’t had the best of halves went to David Strettle; Strettle went low and after a long spell of the TMO looking at the touchdown his hat trick try was awarded. Every person in the ground who wasn’t a Saracens fan felt that Strettle had knocked on; but in common with the Premiership Final the try was awarded and David Strettle became the 1st man to score 3 tries in a Double Header game. Owen Farrell converted the try to take the final score to Saracens 34 Wasps 28. The game wasn’t a thriller in spite of some good tries being scored; both teams will need to lift themselves and quickly, Saracens face Harlequins at the Stoop in the next round; while Wasps have a visit by a buoyant Northampton Saints to look forward to.