After an evening watching future Premiership Rugby stars it was back to the ‘big boys’ and the Champions Cup the following day. It seems a long time since Saracens had played at their home – Allianz Park, they returned still unbeaten in the 2015/16 season. Having beaten Oyannax the previous week by 35 points I wasn’t expecting that stat to change if I’m honest.
In common with many places in the week leading up to Christmas the match was deemed to be Christmas jumper and in this case, Fez Day by the Supporters Association. I wimped out, I’m not a lover of jumpers but did don a Father Christmas scarf, however several made a great effort as you can see! With Father and Son – Malcolm and Jez on the left and David and winner Donna on the right.
The weather was to say the least odd – warm, sunny and around 16 to 17 degrees C. Along with many I didn’t feel the need for a coat, although I did have to convince myself I’d made the right choice as the game progressed.
It seems that no matter who is in the starting 15 this season for Saracens they gel on the pitch. One of their new signings Samuela Vunisa started at 8 with the experienced Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray keeping him company in the back row. Maro Itoje, who impresses more and more started alongside another experienced Scot Jim Hamilton in the second row. With the Front row made up to Petrus du Plessis, Schalk Brits and Mako Vunipola the Pack was a mix of young and old (in rugby terms that is!)
Oyonnax kicked the game off and was spilled by Maro Itoje, not the best of starts, but Itoje’s team mates came to his rescue. We had the delight early on of Mako Vunipola making a sweet pass worthy of a back as Saracens looked to leave their own half.
I haven’t mentioned the back as yet, it’s particularly good to see Duncan Taylor back in Saracens colours after a difficult season injury wise last year; with the form he’s been in I’d be surprised if he misses out on a place in the Scotland team for the 6 Nations.
I’m watching a re run of the game while writing this and I have to confess with 5 minutes gone I’m already tempted to mute the commentary – wow Stuart Barnes could really talk less! I have to say BT Sport really have the whole commentary thing wrapped up, much easier to listen to.
The score board wasn’t troubled for the first 10 minutes, it looked like Mike Ellery had scored a miracle try in the corner, showing great dexterity in spite of his height he seemed to keep himself in the field of play to touch down after a great floated pass from Owen Farrell. However a centimetre of his right boot it the touch line! His efforts deserved the 5 points.
Kelly Brown stole the resulting line out ball and in spite of their best efforts and Saracens losing the ball at one point the try did come on the other wing as the ball flew across the line to Chris Ashton – who, according to Mr Barnes had the ball in the wrong arm – hey ho the points said that didn’t matter. Owen Farrell converted the try in spite of a fairly vigorous wind.
Saracens again failed to deal with the kick off and paid for it with 3 points as Regis Lespinas converted a penalty awarded as the home team held on to the ball. I do agree with the commentary on this one, if (and it is likely) Saracens progress they’re likely to pay with more than 3 points if they don’t get that basic right.
We had the sight we see every week as Oyonnax did well to disrupt a Saracens ruck and win the ball, Fetu’u Vainikolo kicked the ball from well within his own half, it bounced all the way off, the surface isn’t an alien one to the French team, yet it seems to hit every visitor at least once each game.
Farrell added 3 points for Saracens, which brought on some waffling about his kicking stats, pressure kicks, no pressure kicks – I don’t really understand what on earth the point was – but the up shot was he’s a fine striker of the ball.
Chris Ashton thought he’d picked up his second try after 27 minutes, it took the home crowd a while to realise that there’d been a forward pass from Jamie George. The move had come from a great intercept from that man Taylor. However that second try did come 3 minutes later as Saracens played a little champagne rugby, Farrell put a grubber kick through for Ashton who took the ball to score both his and Saracens second. The kick from Farrell swung around the wrong side of the posts this time.
You’ll never guess – Saracens messed up the kick off! Vunipola being pinged for obstruction – Lespinas kicked and scored, we had the unusual sight of the ball being held by one of his nervous colleagues – bit something you see often these days.
Oyonnax had a good attacking spell but the Saracens defence was up to the challenge and they came away with the ball. A big knock on in midfield by Lespinas (name accepted by spell check on the 3rd attempt!) saw Saracens attack in some style after a wonderful offload by Farrell as he was falling, to Ashton. That attack came to nothing, however with 5 seconds remaining Farrell kicked to the corner from a penalty, Saracens drove the ball over the line with Vunisa being in possession of the ball. The score at that time was a big blow for the French team who’d held their own well in the first half.
Saracens scored their bonus point try 3 minutes into the second half with a huge driving maul, again Vunisa was in charge of the ball, Farrell had an easy kick at goal and stretched the lead to 21 points.
The maul was impressive, but wow the next try was the pick of the bunch, Alex Goode took the ball close to the right wing virtually on the half way line taking a pass from Vunisa – Goode backed himself and danced through the defence to score a cracker! It was shout out loud exciting, Saracens were playing rugby with a smile on their faces. Farrell added the extras.
Oyonnax took advantage of some field position but a poor pass was picked up by speedster Mike Ellery who ran up the field to score another great try. The conversion put Saracens on 41 points.
At the risk of sounding like Mrs Angry, it did bother me when a fellow Saracens fan felt the need to shout ‘rubbish’ very loudly when Ben Ransom, freshly on the pitch kicked a less than perfect clearance – some people really are never pleased, with a bonus point in the bag and a lead of 35 points it really wasn’t a disaster. Credit has to go to the visitors they didn’t stop trying, a great run by Vainikolo was thwarted then wasted by his team mate giving away a penalty.
Jamie George showed his backs that he could do anything they could in scoring Saracens next try taking the ball just behind him from a great pass by Charlie Hodgson, George ran through to score, it was reminiscent of his try during the Premiership Final. That kind of play much put George in contention for an England shirt! Hodgson added the extras.
Oyonnax were the next to score a try – it was well taken by Vainikolo after he intercepted a Hodgson pass, there was a wry shake of heads amongst the coaches; the French team deserved to take a try home for their efforts.
A truly wonderful kick by Ben Ransom strangely wasn’t greeted by a loud shout in appreciation! Chris Ashton had been looking for his hat trick and found it out on his wing again, this time from a grubber kick through by Richard Wigglesworth. The timing was perfect as was the finish, similarly so was Hodgson’s conversion.
The score finished on Saracens 55 Oyonax 13 – with 8 tries for the men in red and black. Not a shoddy way to go into Christmas Saracens remain the only team unbeaten in the Northern Hemisphere. Next up – Wasps away – can they stop the team from North London?