With the Rugby World Cup in England this year the usual season curtain raiser at Twickenham was delayed until late November. So, we saw a different date, but also a different team with Worcester Warriors joining the party in lieu of Harlequins. A wonderful opportunity for the club to bring both their players and fans to the home of English rugby!
I was joined by me friend and fellow Saracens fan Nigel for lunch at Patisserie Valerie – we had a good catch up and a delightful lunch too before making our way to the stadium. There were plenty of people around, a day out at the big stadium is always a good way to spend an afternoon.
Saracens v Worcester was the first game with Saracens as the home team; it was lovely to see a long line of young dancers doing their thing before the game, like so many of the Premiership clubs the North London club do a lot of work in their community through their Sports Foundation. Yet more children were involved in the build up as they formed a guard of honour for the teams.
Ernst Joubert made his entrance on his own, this was to be his last game for Saracens before making his way back to South Africa, with 114 appearance in his 6.5 years (one to add) Ernst has won the hearts of the fans and is a very popular man amongst his peers, a fitting end to his career in England – would his team take the points home in his honour?
Saracens were starting the match as the only team in the Northern Hemisphere to be unbeaten in all competitions this season. Worcester had a mixed start, with 2 wins in the Premiership including the very big scalp of Northampton Saints, could they cause another upset?
Worcester started proceedings, it was good to see a few changes in he Saracens line up including the highly talented Ben Spencer starting at Scrum Half and Ben Ransom at Full Back. Alistair Hargreaves was an early casualty after the went into a tackle, basically with his head! Never a good idea! That injury introduced another young gun, Maro Itoje.
Ben Ransom took a high ball early on making ground, Spencer took the ball from the ruck and spotted space, he raced through putting in a chip for Chris Ashton; the ball bounced nicely into Chris Ashton’s hands who ran in to score a cracking try. It was hard not to yell sitting on the media gantry – that just wouldn’t do, but polite applause did ensue. Charlie Hodgson in his final season added the extras.
It was good to see Worcester go on the attack, like many I have a soft spot for them; they were rewarded for their pressure with a penalty after Saracens collapsed the maul. Tom Heathcote was unable to take advantage. Worcester chose to kick to touch after another penalty moments later, a big tackle by Marcelo Bosch dislodged the ball as they attacked seeing scrum close to the Saracens line allowing them to clear the ball.
A mention for the Saracens kit in the midst of the rugby , I love the shirt, I even have one, most unusual! But my goodness who ever thought red shorts was a plan? It’s like watching 15 Simon Cowells on the pitch! Legs up to their chests!
Saracens were next with a kickable penalty and also next to miss – very unexpected with Hodgson at the tee. However Ben Spencer went from being try maker to try scorer after Saracens won the ball in a ruck, Itoje passed to Chris Wyles who sped up the wing, he looped the ball over to Spencer who ran in to score. I’m with Austin Healey on thinking Spencer is a hugely talented young player it was great seeing him excel. It was also good seeing the referee laying the law down after Donncha O’Callaghan had chased him down to appeal for the TMO. A tough kick from the side line Hodgson added the extras.
Saracens went very close with forwards pressure, Jackson Wray looked to have touched down but didn’t have control of the ball, he was deemed to be short of the line, but I’d question whether he knocked the ball on, it wasn’t in his hands? Th scrum went the way of Saracens, after a collapse, they won a penalty, I’d have liked to see them go again for a try but Hodgson converted the penalty instead. Last season Saracens failed to score the bonus point try time after time.
Rhys Gill was penalised in the ruck close to the Saracens line, Tom Heathcote made no mistake this time to put the first points on the board for Worcester. A second penalty in a short space of time, the time against Joubert for failing to release, saw Heathcote add another 3 points.
Hodgson returned the favour just before half time and the trams went in at half time with the score on Saracens 20 Worcester Warriors 6. A big hill for Worcester to climb in the second half.
I was pleased to see Saracens eschew another penalty going for lineout, I agree that the penalty was rather a soft one, the response however was anything but Saracens basically rolled the maul over the line to score, this time Jackson Wray did the job, 3 tries down, 1 to go. Hodgson added the extras.
A wonderful cross field kick from Heathcote had just too much power on it as he took what was in effect a free play as Itoje had been penalised for coming in at the side. Again it was great to see a kick to touch, Worcester weren’t able to capitalise however.
Sunshine on Legs – known as Schalk Brits showed his particular brand of dancing feet as he took a high ball, he was a sight to behold as he showed he can do anything the backs can do, he passed to Charlie Hodgson who was tracked by Chris Ashton who leapt Ash Splash style to score his second try of the game. Every time he does that, I tell myself he’ll drop it one day, but he never has and he’s been doing it since he was 6 years old. Loved by Saracens’ fans hated by the rest of the Premiership, it is a spectacular way to score a try.
Another spectacular fact – Charlie Hodgson scored his 2.500th point with the conversion – he really has had a long and successful career. And really couldn’t be more opposite in demeanour to Chris Ashton – it takes all sort to make a great team.
Saracens next try was scored by the man who made the previous one, there’s a theme going on here, Schalk Brits being the man who scored from a rolling maul, another great conversion took Saracens to 41 points.
With 19 minutes to go Worcester faced more adversity as Phil Dowson was shown a yellow card as he drove through at a lineout; to be fair to him Saracens had held George Kruis in the air for longer than normal, again it was good to hear the referee warning Saracens not to do that next time.
Saracens took full advantage of the extra man, although Ben Ransom had to use his won particular brand of dancing feet to score Saracens 6th try of the afternoon, the bonus point was well and truly won. Hodgson added the extras.
With 16 minutes to go and a 42 point gap huge credit has to go to the Worcester Warriors, at no point in this game had they given up. Chris Ashton was penalised via a TMO intervention for a high take, saved form yellow by the fact that he started lower, Warriors went for the lineout, they didn’t benefit this time, but carried on with grit and determination – they seemed to have come alive with 14 men on the pitch!
Worcester were rewarded for their determination when Joe Rees made a fantastic run through after a great offload, Rees was not going to be stopped! Wrong to say I did yell out for that try? I was very pleased to see the Warriors score. Heathcote missed the conversion but his team had their first try at Twickenham.
Worcester were also to have the last word – a wonderful run of 60 to 70 metres by Bryce Heem saw him hold up the ball to allow the rest of his team to catch up, cue more excitement as the ball made its way out to Chris Pennell and out to GJ Van Velze on the win who scored what was a great try! A harder kick for Heathcote – but he converted the try to take the final score to Saracens 48 Worcester Warriors 18.
Saracens remain an unbeaten team, giving a memorable send of to Ernst Joubert. Worcester have lots of positives to take from the final 20 minutes, I have a feeling we’ll see more surprise results from them.
Oh, the new WordPress puts the photos out of order – apologies if they don’t make sense 😦