The first home game for Saracens came 4 games into the season; whilst Twickenham was deemed to be a home game, the sparkling Allianz Park is, after a long wait, the true home of the team from North London. My day started with a lovely surprise when I received a late invite to the 100 Club; one of the hospitality rooms at the stadium. A big result for me largely as it meant I had a lovely ‘home’ cooked roast dinner! The term cook isn’t really one that enters my vocabulary very often, so a tasty lunch was a real bonus! I was invited by Graeme a fellow Supporters Association Committee member; and I had the absolute pleasure of sitting next to his Dad while we ate. It was great to hear that the family had been involved with Saracens for over 30 years in one way or another. There was a fairly enthusiastic (rowdy) table of Saracens fas in the middle of the room; there to celebrate Maggy’s birthday. I first met Maggy in 2011 when I drove her and another passionate fan ‘Stringy’ to watch the boys play Leicester; Maggy has been a fan since 1979! It was a hugely memorable day; we’d never met before but in chatting we discovered that we’d both lost a son, the coincidence was amazing really. The 3 of us had a lovely journey, Stringy was a gentle softly spoken man, it was a great sadness when he passed away a while later. Another lovely memory of the day was the scoreline of Tigers 25 Saracens 50! It was wonderful to see a group of good friends celebrating a special day.
Saracens had made a couple of changes to the team who’d beaten London Irish in the last moments the week before; Jamie George starting at Hooker was making his 100th appearance; not shoddy at the tender age of 23. With Schalk Brits on international duty Jamie had started each game this season. He’s a fine Hooker in the mould of Brits who may well feature for England at some stage. Sale Sharks had travelled south on the back of a big win against London Welsh having scored 46 points to the newcomer’s 8. I hadn’t seen Sale play last season as I’d been at the Rugby League World Cup; I travelled North as they travelled down. But, I am a big fan of an in form Danny Cipriani; on a good day I think he can read the game i a way that many others can’t. Cipriani would be matched against a former Sharks favourite Charlie Hodgson; a player of sublime skills who has thrived at Saracens. Alex Goode was to score the 1st try for the home team after he made break and evaded the Sale fullback Luke McLean; Goode was the only Saracens player to feature in the Opta stats the previous week; he has a habit of making breaks. Charlie Hodgson converted the try. We had the 1st scrum of the game minutes later and amazingly it worked 1st time! I hoped that might remain the case, but knew it was unlikely. However the home team were awarded a penalty as a Sale player came over the top of a ruck; Hodgson clearly in his kicking boots added the 3 points. The star for the day Jamie George became villain when he put in a clumsy tackle which was deemed (and actually was) high. Danny Cipriani kicked to touch and the Sharks scored an easy try after a successful, and largely uncontested rolling maul took David Seymour across the line. The comment from the guy sitting behind was ‘that was slightly worrying’ – indeed true the try was easily scored! Cipriani added the extra points.
Danny Cipriani looked to even the scores up with a drop goal but missed his target. In what could have been a very difficult moment Brad Barritt standing in as captain for Alastair Hargreaves left the field having been injured; Nick Tompkins an outside centre entered the fray to make his 1st team debut. Ernst Joubert took over the mantle of captaincy. The 2nd scrum of the game saw Joubert holding the ball in at the base; Saracens rumbled forward and a penalty was won; Hodgson again provided the 3 points. The 2nd try was initiated by Goode, Hodgson made a looping pass to Chris Ashton who passed to Joubert who was positioned on the wing he ran in to score. Hodgson taking the hardest kick of his attempts so far, added the extras. Jacques Burger as is his way put o several huge hits during the age including one on Jon Mills, Sale continued their attack but knocked on to lose the ball. Saracens seemed to have the ascendancy in the scrum and won yet another penalty as it crabbed sideways (a technical rugby term, not!). We had a spell of that exciting game of rugby tennis – until at last Tom Arscott for Sale made a schoolboy error kicking the ball over the dead ball line. That error gave Saracens a great attacking position and they won the scrum but then lost the all after Neil De Kock kicked the ball straight into Arscott’s hands allowing him to redeem himself. The ball was turned over in the ruck but knocked on by Saracens; however they won a mother penalty from the scrum. Hodgson kicked for the corner this time and Saracens went for the same rolling maul style try – they however knocked on – then did something that couldn’t be fathomed in the scrum, as the referee seemed to be conducting an orchestra by way of explanation! The words of my esteemed friend Graeme! Sale were awarded a free kick to deal with the orchestrated offence; Saracens took the ball in the line out but lost it when Chris Ashton passed to a Sale player, oopsie! Nothing was gained by Sale as the receiver was bundled into touch. Saracens were able to confirm their superiority n the scrum just before half time as they twice won the ball; on the 2nd occasion it was from a Sale put in. The scrum was pushed putting Joubert over the line; it looked like he’d added t his personal tally as the referee lifted his arm to give a try; but he ran under the posts to award a penalty try! The try was duly converted by Hodgson to add the 2 points and send the home team in with a smile at half time.
I haven’t mentioned Sale too much in the 1st half because with the exception of a very well taken try they really weren’t in the competition; however they changed that early in the 2nd half. Replacement prop or hooker depending on whether I go with the number oh his back at 16 or the ITV commentary; looking very much like a front row forward in stature, made a break worthy of a svelte back to put in a pass for Tom Brady – which looked hugely forward! Brady used his feet and kicked forward to land on the ball to score. The start of the half went the way of the visitors as Saracens again seemed to emerge half asleep; it felt like a repeat of both the London Irish and Wasps game. Sale had a great opportunity as they attacked through David Seymour, he delayed his ass too long and was stopped in his tracks, losing the ball. Saracens won the scrum and after Duncan Taylor had a run through Richard Wigglesworth cleared the lines. The Sale throw in missed virtually the whole line landing in Kelly Brown’s welcoming hands, he made a brat break, but dropped the ball. We were at last treated to a Danny Cipriani break and play progressed; again we had a refereeing decision that was hard to compute as Alex Goode as sin binned – maybe for pulling a player back? Nick Tompkins belied his stature to put in a try saving tackle moments later. A controversial ‘event’ happened after Cipriani put in a great kick; Chris Ashton beat Johnny Leota to the ball and was then bundled over the barrier for his troubles; even an unbiased eye would wonder why a card isn’t brandished?
Danny Cipriani left the field to be replaced by Joe Ford, son of Mike and brother to George; the family likeness was clear! Saracens at last came back into the game with a determined spell of forwards play; Nick Tompkins showed his dancing feet before passing to Richard Barrington who to the delight of the crowd scored the try! The choice of music for his try scoring antics as Deilah by Tom Jones??? A great sing-along the, but really? Richard Wigglesworth added the extras. The visitors were to have the final word of the half as they were worded their own penalty try as they rolled over the line again; George Kruis had made an ‘illegal’ move as Saracens grid to defend their line and he was sent to the bin. He was joined albeit on the other side by Sale Sharks flanker David Seymour as he was shown a yellow card. Alex Goode converted the penalty to take the final score to Saracens 40 Sale Sharks 19. Not a bad day at the office, but not a complete performance by the home team either, they travel to Bath for their next game. Sale had some bright points in the 2nd half and go home to face Wasps; both fixtures should produce a good game! I’ll be in Bath praying the rain stays away!