The opening rounds of the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup coincided with an evening that would change lives forever, the terrible ISIS attack on the beautiful city of Paris and its people.
For me the evening held moments of terror until I heard from my daughter who’s lived in the City for nearly 3 years, the terror turned to disbelief as I saw the extent of the carnage on the streets of Paris. This is a sports blog so I won’t linger on the atrocities, rather this is to set a context.
I had a very late night as I couldn’t seem to draw myself away from the TV, but was very much looking forward to being back at Allianz Park to watch Saracens. I joined my good Saracens friends for lunch at The Metro restaurant before the match. I can highly recommend a visit if you’re heading to watch a match – the food is superb! As well as lovely food (a seafood linguini for me) there was lots of laughter which is always welcome!
And so to the match – Saracens had played Toulouse in the Heineken Cup in October 2013, at the time it felt like they’d given away home advantage, with a heavily forwards focussed game they also ‘gave away’ the win.
Toulouse is a team packed with stars, the majority of them current or former French internationals, they’ve been particularly strong over the years in the pack. Saracens started the match as the only team in the Northern Hemisphere unbeaten (According to Sky Sports).
As was right the event started with a minute’s silence as both teams lined up out of respect for those who lost their lives in Paris, the French National Anthem then rang around the ground; it was very moving to say the least.
This was my first game back at Allianz Park having been Rugby World Cup mad while it was on, it was my first chance to confirm that yes, the new kit makes it look like the Saracens players legs look like they reach their chests! I love the shirt, but with the red shorts?
We had the first scrum inside 2 minutes and deep inside the Toulouse half after the ball was knocked on, the ball emerged for the home team and they piled the pressure on, with the ball passing between hands across the pitch. With a penalty on offer Owen Farrell put in a speculative kick, Farrell, with his devil eyes was on the mark with the penalty to put 3 points on the board.
I’m writing this as I re watch the match and I’m pained to say, ooh I’m not a fan of Stuart Barnes! But hey ho, he’s who I have to listen to.
Chris Ashton, evaded from the England 31 has I suspect got a point to prove this season, he made a great run through after eluding several of the French forwards to be stopped close to the touch line. Alex Goode knocked the ball on giving Toulouse the chance to clear their lines.
Maxime Medard was penalised for holding the ball after a short burst of rugby tennis, Louis Picamoles got himself out of position an allowed the ball to bounce putting his back in all sorts of trouble – the result was another 3 points for Saracens and Farrell.
Saracens scored their first try through Mako Vunipola – his superb inside pass to Owen Farrell had set the whole thing up, who says Billy is the only Vunipola brother in the team with style? The try was a triumph for the big boys as Mako was driven over the line by Billy and George Kruis. With 15 minutes on the clock Saracens had a lead of 13 points.
Toulouse were out of sorts and really hadn’t spent any time in the Saracens half, we had a small handbag incident between Picamoles and Duncan Taylor, if shirt pulling constitutes that, but it amounted to nothing.
Saracens continued with their superior possession and territory and another penalty, this time a long distance one was converted by Farrell. It was good to see Owen making his now familiar hand sign in support of Joining Jack – along with many rugby league players he’s aiming to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
The score climbed for Saracens with yet another penalty; Toulouse’s hopes were further dented when Census Johnson was sent to the naughty step for seemingly forgetting he was now a Toulouse player as he ran round completely on the wrong side!
Saracens gave away that advantage in the first instance by failing to release the ball as they attacked. They’d eschewed a penalty and messed up, Farrell made no such mistake with the next penalty and Saracens were ahead by 22 points!
That lead was stretched by the second try of the game, this time the man with ball in hand was the multi talented Chris Wyles – it seems that no matter where the American is asked to play he excels. Saracens broke from a scrum moving the ball out to Wyles on the wing, he made no mistake in the grounding of the ball although the officials had to have a TMO check.
Toulouse played the final minutes of the half in Saracens territory, they had an opportunity to score 3 points but decided to seek a try in the taking of a scrum. Saracens had some gritty defending to do, but held out.
The team went in at half time with the scores on Saracens 27 Toulouse 0. I have to say that Saracens were very clearly on the top of their game, However Toulouse looked out of sorts, no surprise when you consider the timing of the game. I wonder if they’ll regret agreeing to play the game.
I was joined by my friend Janet and her son Ochenahe at half time, they’d been sent tickets to the match through the Aviva First Timers initiative It was great to have a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable 9 year old next to me – in a Saracens shirt too! I’m sure they’ll both be back.
I’m going to move through the second half rapidly as I seem to be writing a novel here!
Saracens started the half as they’d played the first and scored an early try, Wyles was the victorious man again, this time scoring a try worthy of his pack. He had a lot of help from a very strong and determined Farrell; who for the only time in the game missed the posts.
It has to be said the second half wasn’t a thrilling one, both teams made several early changes. A notable change for Toulouse was the introduction of Imanol Harinordoquy – he inevitably brought an added level of stroppy, getting himself involved within moments of being on the pitch.
Saracens made substitutions in the front row and it has to be said they weren’t advantageous ones, the home team were suddenly penalised in the scrum and found themselves losing several line outs. Toulouse therefor had more of the ball, spending more time in the Saracens’ half.
Toulouse were rewarded for the pressure they applied with their only points of the game as they poured over the line, Christopher Tolofua was awarded the score, Bezy added the extras. For some reason Harinordoquy emerged in a strop yet again.
We had some fireworks in the half when a lazy Dusattoir took an age to move away when Saracens were awarded a penalty; the players went into the group and Gael Ficou decided to rush in and remove Michael Rhodes by his neck! Until such dangerous moves are punished with a card they’ll keep happening, Ficou should have been sent to the bin. I don’t however approve of the home fans shouting ‘off, off, off’!
Saracens failed to score the bonus point try in spite of their best efforts, I believe they failed to finish in the top 2 of the Premiership in 2014/15 through their inability to convert 4 points into 5.
The game finished with the score on Saracens 32 Toulouse 7.