REPORT: Sarries away

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REPORT: Sarries away

by Big Papi on Mon Jan 29, 2007 11:28 am

Saracens 19 v 8 London Irish

By Bobby Jones

This is going to be a short report for a number of reasons. Firstly, to cover the highlights from an LI perspective would take about two paragraphs and even then it would need to be padded out. Secondly I have very little time before heading off to Belgium on a training course, so I will keep this mercifully short anyway.

First the background: In a disjointed season many of us saw this match as a defining one for the season. If we won we could think seriously about making a push for a top four spot and another pop at the Heineken Cup next season (sans French clubs or not). If we lost it would probably signal mid table mediocrity or worse the possibility of joining Worcester and Saints in an almighty scramble at the bottom to avoid the dreaded drop.

London Irish announced a strong line up – in my opinion potentially our first choice fifteen, Geraghty excepted.

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Group hug - photo by cormac

All of which makes what followed all the more disappointing.

The trip to Watford was uneventful, the hot dog tasty (even if it hung around for a lot longer than it should have) and the AG good and not MadStad-expensive. Our seats in the (unreserved) South Stand offered a decent view, although it was necessarily difficult to get any perspective on what was happening at the far end, as we were behind the posts.

So the match began with Jackson getting us started. Bob took a clean catch, the pack mauled the ball up-field a few yards then released Mapusua who ran it up to about half way before being brought down. In doing so, the Sarries tacklers conceded a penalty which Catty kicked to touch at about the 22. For the next few minutes LI huffed and puffed without looking like making a breakthrough, and eventually Sarries got possession. Jackson hoofed up a high kick. Tagi took it cleanly, ran it back and promptly got pinged for not releasing. The kick was about 40 metres out and a little to the right of the posts but eminently kickable for a kicker of Jackson’s quality. Howecer, miss it he did, and we let out a sigh of relief.

For about the first 15 minutes of the half, LI camped in Sarries' half, had loads of possession but never looked like scoring. Eventually this had to rebound on us when Sarries woke up and started to play - and it did. A quick break out down the right wing and it looked a certain try until Catty got a hand to the ball and knocked it out of the attacker’s hand. The result was a 5 metre line out to Sarries which they caught and drove. They were held up over the line – Nobody in the crowd thought it was a try; none of the players thought it was a try, but referee Pearson still insisted in going to the video ref for confirmation. “No try” was duly confirmed. However Mr Pearson had been playing advantage, and we now went back for the penalty which was at about the same angle to the posts as the previous kick but this time much closer to the posts on the 22. Nobody expected Jackson to miss again and he didn’t.

3-0 to Sarries with about 18 minutes gone.

Sarries had now taken over domination of possession, and a couple of minutes later we had to go to the video ref again, this time after a great tackle by Delon had dragged the attacker’s foot into touch and hit the corner flag just as he went over. It was clear on the first look at the screen and the video ref took only seconds to indicate no try. This was getting more and more ominous though.

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Sailosi back in action - photo by cormac

A couple of minutes later a nice handling move from Sarries finished with a flip pass to the last man who made a Delon-type swallow dive over the line. Surely a try this time…………well no. The last pass, clever as it was, actually went forward, so again we went back for a penalty which the referee had already signalled, and Glenda duly slotted the pen for 6-0.

6-0

All of this had happened in a “mad” 10 minute spell and it culminated in a spectacular piece of hari-kari from LI. A nice kick from Jackson had pinned us back on our own 5 metre line. Topsy decided to take a quick line out to Leguizamon who had about 2 seconds to get a kick in, hesitated and was tackled behind our try line. Five metre scrum to Sarries for whom Visagie is as usual scrumaging brilliantly. So much so that on the first shove Neal Hatley is injured and has to be replaced by Tonga.

The scrum is reset another couple of times, and after the second time referee Pearson trots between the posts and awards a penalty try.

13-0 after 28 minutes

Exactly what this was for I couldn’t say but it was no more than Saracens deserved. They had taken the game by the scruff of the neck and thoroughly deserved their lead. So with about 28 minutes gone it is 13-0 to Sarries and LI are facing an uphill battle – and not filling any of us with confidence that they can do anything much about it.

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Mapusua before injury - photo by cormac

With about 10 minutes to go to half time Mapasua went down injured, limped around for a few minutes and then with about 6 minutes left, came off, to be replaced by Nils Mordt. LI were given a chance to get themselves back into the match with a penalty from about 22 metres out and slightly to the right of the posts.

Ricky lived up to his erratic reputation by missing it.

Around here I would have settled for our going in at half time without conceding any more points but it was not to be. Another attempted counter-attack, a miscued kick by Delon which Sarries ran back, and we were pinged for offside again. An easy kick for Jackson which he duly converted. Mr Pearson finally mercifully blew for half time.

16-0 at Half Time

So, to summarise: in the first half LI had dominated possession for about the first 15 minutes, but without looking like scoring. Sarries had then dominated the rest of the half, scored 16 points and could have had double that.

I do not propose to spend a great deal of time describing the second half. Sarries had the game won and both teams knew it. Jackson and Ricky exchanged penalties and with about two minutes to go Delon scored a consolation try - but it was too little too late and we all knew it.

This was as disappointing a performance as I have seen from LI for the last couple of years. Excuses are few. It was Flutey’s first game at 10 and only his second full 80 minutes since returning from injury; it was Catty’s first game after a spell out and, er, that’s about it for the excuses.

I am trying to get my head around how the team we watched tear Ulster apart a couple of weeks ago could look so disjointed this afternoon, so lacking in ideas and generally so dispirited. Greater Rugby brains than mine will no doubt dissect the performance and come up with some cogent explanation, but I am afraid I can’t.

Mid Table mediocrity? – right now I would happily settle for that.

Two apologies to finish with.

1. The absence of names for Sarries' attackers as I have not had time to check the papers and had difficulty seeing numbers, as they were running towards me for most of the first half.

2. The lack of detail – but it really was such a dispiriting performance that it was difficult to summon up sufficient enthusiasm to take extracts from my copious notes.
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by AlecW on Mon Jan 29, 2007 12:05 pm

Papi - that is a pretty fair report - many thanks for it...

I don't blame you: in t'village pub, I had difficulty resisting the cries of the locals to put the Chelsea game on: it was that bad.

Couple of things from the TV:-

The guy who had the ball beaten out of his hands by Catt was Haughton.

The try with the big dive WAS disallowed for a forward pass - an excellent call: it was JUST forward (about 1 yard!). On the other hand, if it had been LI, I'd've been apoplectic, though, cos I've seen many worse given - and especially as a 2 man overlap was butchered!

NickK managed to get another yellow, for deliberate offside at a ruck, when he tackled de Kock.

Hatley went off clutching his left wrist / forearm. Interestingly, Visagie went off later, clutching HIS left wrist / forearm - he looked in a lot of pain, too.

The penalty try was definitely deserved, but 'twas not clear even from the TV what it was for - unless it was for breaking the bind. But we were under terrible pressure and would probably have conceded, so fair call.

I hope Mapusua's was just a dead leg, but the injury looked like upper thigh, hammy or groin, I'm sorry to say.

Our front five was taken to Sketchleys, I'm afraid.
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by SamB on Mon Jan 29, 2007 12:32 pm

A suitably despondent report.

After that first couple of minutes I thought we were going to tear Sarries apart. Couldn't have been more wrong!

Our decision making in the backs was sensationally bad. Flutey had the worst game I've seen from him, I suspect/hope this was rustiness. His kicking (goal and line) was dreadful, he tried to make breaks when he should have passed and look like he didn't know what to do with ball in hand. He'll need to restore his game if he's to break into Wasps' starting line up. Our 9/10 axis was well off, with Dodge throwing out poor passes and Flutey wasting what good ball we did get. Catt tried hard, but the rest of the team gave him no chance. Sailosi was his elusive self and he and Delon were the only backs to look likely to spark something. Topsy was frustrating, occasionally threatening with the ball in hand, but defensively poor and prone to panic when players close him down.

Front row was average at best. Visagie is class, so not too much shame in Hats and Tonga losing out there, but the Samoan lad is a poor scrummager and we should have torn him to shreds. Bob tackled well and spoiled a good portion of Sarries' lineout ball, but his carrying was poor and pedestrian. Give him a bit of a rest and move Roche into the second row. Kennedy was excellent and, I thought, unlucky to be sin binned. Steffon put in a lot of effort, but we only made one or two turnovers all game so its a big call to make him a man of the match. Roche is not a six, took some good lineout ball, stole a few of theirs and carried into contact better than I've ever seen him, but... I haven't seen him make a tackle or get stuck in at the breakdown, both of which I think McCullen does. He's a very useful lock, play him there. Does he scrummage in behind Kennedy? If so, I wonder if Smith picks him to help keep up Nick's half at scrum time? Juan had a terrible first half, he's a great player but suffers from total brain freeze every so often. He was running laterally and away from support too much yesterday meaning it was always a struggle for us to recycle possession. Murphy runs straight and hard, he also has better positional awareness and carries better from the back of the scrum.

I actually quite enjoyed the match despite our performance, and despite one 'gentleman' in front of me in the delapidated old stand who felt compelled to barrack Delon Armitage with all manner of abuse every time he was within earshot. A wonderful example to set for any young rugby fans. I was also very sad to hear the Saracens fans around me claim Hatley was 'faking it' when he was injured and start a slow hand clap. Funnily enough there wasn't much contrition when Hats had to go off with what looked like a nasty injury. Finally I found the playing of 'I predict a riot' every time a fight broke out particularly annoying, whoever put a 4 year old in control of the stadium PA really should think again.
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by AlecW on Mon Jan 29, 2007 3:04 pm

No wonder Visagie looked as if he was in pain!

Quote from the Times:-

Cobus Visagie, who subsequently dislocated his right elbow in a collision with a colleague. The limb went straight back and Saracens hope the lack of fixtures over the next fortnight will give him enough time to recover.


OUCH...!
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