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.
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.
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.
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.
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.