Going out of order here – but, needs must! I’ve been considering what to write here for a couple of days and I do believe I may ramble somewhat, most unlike me (said with a smile). The words are in the form of a build up – the photos from the game.
I’m going to go back to the beginning – well back to the start of my ‘relationship’ with Saracens. My club rugby watching started with that ‘other code’ the one with 13 men – rugby league, I didn’t enter into the world that is club rugby union until much, much later.
I’m not sure what started the whole thing off, but it was London Wasps that I headed to with my then husband in around 2007, that was a time of great success for the club then playing in High Wycombe. Living in Essex we had a 6 match ticket, adding the odd game on when we could.
At the Double Header in 2009 Saracens advertised a game at Wembley against Northampton Saints for £10 – it seemed rude not to! This was 2 months after I’d lost my oldest son, Luke and being out of the house and enjoying sport helped me through those early days and sport continues to keep me sane nearly 7 years later.
Although the game was fairly low scoring I can remember enjoying the experience – there was a then record crowd of 44,832. Leaving the stadium leaflets were being handed out offering a season ticket for £89 – I think you know what I’m going to say next – Rude Not To!
So, for the first season the 6 match ticket with London Wasps stayed and an allegiance with Saracens built. To say the style of rugby at that time was rather different to Wasps would be an understatement! I can recall sitting watching a game alone one afternoon, shouting out – ‘Boooooring!’ at the top of my voice – it felt to me that the fly half at that time, Derick Houggard, didn’t know how to pass the ball, only how to kick it!
But, this was a time of transition for Saracens, Brendan Venter had brought in 12 new players including 6 South Africans, with 14 players going out the door. The label Saffacens was born. They finished 3rd in the table during that year, making the final against Leicester Tigers, Saracens’ hearts were broken by a late Dan Hipkiss try – Tigers were winners – I can still remember how it felt when Hipkiss touched down.
2010-11 saw a 2nd place finish and another final appearance against Leicester Tigers, things ended differently after Saracens defended their line for just over 9 minutes to prevent another late Tigers try. Saracens were Premiership Champions!
2011-12 and a 3rd place finish – meeting, yes, Tigers in the semi-final they were stopped on their tracks. Harlequins went on to win the trophy in a great boost for a club that had been troubled after Bloodgate.
Success was clearly coming to Saracens and in 2012-13 they finished top of the Premiership Table having won 17 of their 22 games, scoring 533 points along the way. A Premiership trophy wasn’t to be in their year however and old rivals Tigers and Saints contested the final with Tigers again being triumphant.
2013-14 saw Saracens top the table again – this time by a clear 9 points having won 19 of the 22 games, the points scored had jumped up too – a huge 629, bringing 10 try scoring bonus points! That was a phenomenal season and one in which those who watch this team regularly truly understood that the ‘boring, boring Sarries’ mantle had been well and truly thrown off. However – again there was no silverware – as Saints won a very tight game to lift the trophy.
This year brought a double disappointment for Saracens fans when, having made the Heineken Cup Final against Toulon they were well and truly beaten. It was a fairly unpleasant experience all round for us fans, as the game was rather like ‘men against boys’ and it seemed that every non Saracens fan in the then Millennium Stadium wanted the French team to win. Some of that was down to the fact that this was Jonny Wilkinson’s swan song, some of it down to what felt like a tangible dislike of Saracens.
The tables were turned in 2014-15 when Saracens beat Bath in the Final at Twickenham – Saints had finished top of the table but were knocked out by 4th place Saracens in the semi-final. That was in a way a strange experience for me, I was on the ‘Bloggers Bench’ so really couldn’t yell as I might have liked when Jamie George ran in one of Saracens 5 pointers or when the whistle went to see them crowned as Champions again.
This is a major ramble but I will get to the Champions Cup Final eventually I promise – I had ‘proper press access’ to both the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup Finals in Lyon and took advantage of that to watch Montpellier v Quins; but decided I wanted to watch Saracens as a fan – my goodness I’m glad I did that!
Stepping back again a bit I must write about Saracens Class of 2008 – the team that faced Racing Metro featured in the 23 five players who went through the Saracens Academy together – Owen Farrell, George Kruis, Will Fraser starting and Jamie George and Jackson Wray on the bench. All have over 100 Caps beneath their belts other than Fraser who’s faced a couple of serious injuries.
Add to that group England players (past & present) Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Richard Wigglesworth, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola and wonder Fly Half Charlie Hodgson and a potential England scrum half in Ben Spencer along with prop Richard Barrington and that makes 16 England qualified players – either by birth or from a young age in the 23, the exception being Barritt who has played for England and holds a UK Passport and has strong English roots. I do believe that shows us that the Saffacens label can now be dropped.
Another popular label for this club is ‘Boring’ I’d say the stats above lay out the fact that this really isn’t the case now either; Saracens have finished this Premiership season top of the table by a clear 6 points having won 17 games and scored 580 points with 8 try scoring bonus points.
As Saracens fans we have been treated to some wonderful running rugby – Thomas Waldrom is for the second year in a row the top try scorer with 13 – I’m thinking they were mostly his trademark base of the ruck/maul tries – Chris Ashton who was joint second last season with Chris Wyles on 13 – scored 9 tries in the regular season.
I really am rambling now – so must get to the Champions Cup Final – Saracens went into to game having won each of their games – 8 in all – would they get the 9th win against a team featuring one of the very best 9/10 partnerships in club rugby in Maxime Machenaud and Dan Carter?
I’d missed Saracens semi-final with another commitment but had made the Racing Metro semi in Nottingham against Tigers. I have to say Machenaud shone, Tigers were very poor, and Racing were unimpressive on the whole, but did enough to get to the Final.
A good group of Saracens fans had managed to sit in the same area, it was good to be with friends and special to be sitting next to my daughter Alexandra and her fiancé who’d travelled down from Paris and is becoming a real Saracens fan, in spite of Gautier being Parisian.
Enough has been written about the game to know that there were no tries scored, no leaping up and down with excitement as one of the speedsters ran in to touch down over the line. The weather was pretty awful, pouring rain for the most part and the game was all about penalties and defence.
Racing Metro lost Machenaud after 21 minutes which will have been a blow, and the fact that from penalty one Dan Carter didn’t step up to kick was an indicator that he probably shouldn’t have started the game. But, these two factors aside Saracens were purely and simply the better team.
One Saracens player in particular was outstanding – 21 year old Maro Itoje was rightly named as Man of The Match and later received the plaudit of European Player of The Year. This young man has very high standards for himself and will strive to become better, if he isn’t considered World Class already he will be very soon.
The largely French crowd as they had on Friday night made a heck of a racket every time Owen Farrell kicked – much to Alexandra’s utter disgust – but Farrell was not the least bit perturbed. He punished Racing’s errors with 4 penalties in the first half and 3 in the second. The only response from the French team were 3 penalties of their own.
I’ve read views that the game was boring, it was anything but in the stadium! And the utter joy was tangible when that final whistle went and Saracens were confirmed as European Champions! A Premiership Rugby Team are European Champions for the first time since London Wasps lifted the Heineken Cup in 2007. That can only be a good thing for the wider league.
Saracens face Leicester Tigers (of course) in the Premiership Semi-Final this weekend – they have a chance to emulate Wasps and do the double – this special group of men deserve that record.
The joy is plain to see on the faces of my lovely Saracens friends!