The Champions Cup brought what was probably the biggest game of the season so far for Saracens as Toulon, a team which had disappointed the Saracens at times in Europe; notably in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff. Saracens had become the first team to beat Toulon at their own ground in the European competition in October, but for some reason I felt nervous about this one.
After the fact I’ve looked at the 2 teams and have been surprised to find more Frenchmen than I thought in the Toulon line up
- R Barrington 6ft 1, 124kg, 27, England L Delboulbes 5ft 11, 102kg, 30, France
- J George 6ft , 112kg, 26 , England G Guirado 6ft , 105kg, 30, France
- P du Plessis 6ft 1, 122kg, 35, South Africa L Chilichava 6ft 2, 125kg, 25, Georgia
- M Itoje 6ft 5, 116kg, 22, England M Gorgodze 6ft 5, 118kg, 32, Georgia
- J Hamilton 6ft 8, 125kg, 34, Scotland R Taofifenua 6ft 6, 129kg, 26, France
- M Rhodes 6ft 5, 109kg, 29, South Africa J Smith 6ft 5, 112kg, 35, South Africa
- S Burger 6ft 3,114kg, 33, South Africa JF Lobbe 6ft4, 108kg, 35, Argentina
- J Wray 6ft 2, 112kg, 26 England D Vermeulen 6ft 4, 120kg, 30, South Africa
- R Wigglesworth 5ft 9, 86kg, 33, England S Tillous-Borde 5ft 9, 87kg,31, France
- O Farrell 6ft 2, 93kg, 25, England M Giteau 5ft 10, 85kg, 34, Australia
- S Maitland 6ft 1, 101kg, 28, Scotland B Habana 5ft 11, 94kg, 33, South Africa
- Nick Tompkins 6ft, 94kg, 21, England Ma’a Nonu 6ft , 108kg, 33, New Zealand
- M Bosch 6ft 1 , 92kg, 33, Argentina M Bastereaud 6ft , 120kg, 28, France
- C Ashton 5ft 11, 92kg, 29, England J Tuisova 5ft 11, 108kg, 22, Fiji
- A Lozowski 6ft, 92kg, 23, England L Halfpenny 5ft 10, 85kg, 28, Wales
Joint Pack Weight
Saracens 934kg Toulon 919kg
Backs 649kg 687kg
Average Age 28 30
Centres weight 186kg 228kg
I was also surprised that the average age was so close between the 2 teams, the south of France often seems like the place top class players go to add a few more years to the end of their careers, it’s interesting that we form opinions without knowing the facts so often.
The Saracens Supporters Association had a wonderful time out in Toulon, that was a weekend I missed, but it was also the weekend my Grandson was born, so the right choice this time. They planned to welcome the Toulon supporters to reciprocate, it couldn’t be quite the same due to the lack of sunshine, or come to think of it daylight. But, Friday night was spent at Allianz Park, the club laid on a curry and Kevin Sorrell the attack coach came along to be interviewed. He was very honest and funny and gave a window into the coaching set upon game day. He was questioned about the size difference between our team and Toulon and a laugh was raised when he was asked if we planned to go through them or round them, with a difference of 92lbs or 6.5 stone it did seem that speed and going round was the best option!
The curry was tasty and plentiful and a reasonable £8.50, we were very lucky that the evening coincided with a Saracens Storm game against the Munster A team. They most certainly grow them big in Limerick, I imagine at least one of the Devin Toner look alikes could make a career in basketball as an alternative. I confess that I dipped in and out of the game but I saw the half back pairing of Henry Taylor and SSA Sponsored player Tom Whitely tearing up the place in the first half. The Storm went ahead but Munster clawed their way back into contention in the second half. The game finished on Saracens Storm 47 Munster A 31. A mix of young and ‘old’ A team rugby is a great way to get a glimpse of the future.
As with every Munster game they brought along a good number of fans, I had a lovely chat with a London based fan after the game, it was great to exchange rugby stories. The evening was a great success and will be repeated again for the quarter final hopefully. I stayed in a Travelodge, for £34 it was probably as cheap as driving home and back the next day.
After a very lazy morning reading a book and listening to music I made my way to Mill Hill Broadway, a 10 minute journey rather than a mission on the M25 which was a delight. I met my good friend Nigel for lunch before we made our way to the ground. The buses were packed which was a good sign and the crowd was confirmed as the capacity of 10,000, success and a building atmosphere is attracting more people to Allianz Park.
And so to the game, As I was queuing for the bus I got chatting to some casual fans who thought it hadn’t been a good game, I imagine they judge a game on the number of try’s scored, and there was only the one by Chris Ashton in this game. But, from my point of view this was one of the best games I’ve been at this season. The word I’d use to describe the match is Attritional, it was a battle, largely up the centre of the field. For all the star factor of the French team their flyers didn’t look like getting across the try line.
There were 2 stand out players for Saracens and the stats tell the story of their afternoon, Jackson Wray, my player of the season so far, made 18 carries making 83 metres, and Nick Tompkins, with the huge Toulon midfield in front of him wasn’t far behind, he made 12 carries and 70 metres. The nearest Toulon player metres wise was Mathieu Bastereaud with 45, that old adage of not being able to run without your legs stood. As well at the Blonde bombshells there were several notable performances, Schalk Burger and Mike Rhodes were everywhere and Sean Maitland took a hit from Bastereaud that looked like he was hit by a train, a perfectly fair tackle, just huge! He simply jumped up and carried on. Every man on that pitch will have known they were in a game, aching bodies all over.
As well as having 2 of the best teams in Europe on the pitch we also had a man who must be the best referee in the world, Nigel Owens, he allowed the game to flow, taking no time to brandish the one card he showed to Duane Vermeulen. The only score of the first half was a solitary penalty scored by Owen Farrell, a very unusual scoreline of 3 nil at half time.
The try line was breached once in the second half by none other than Chris Ashton, on his way to Toulon next season, he once again proved he knows where that try line is. Toulon had a try disallowed in the first half, the big screen weren’t working but I believe the ball was lost forward.
Owen Farrell converted the Ashton try but missed a couple of penalties as did Leigh Halfpenny, but he got the one penalty Toulon needed to ensure they got the losing bonus point to qualify for the quarter finals. The game finished Saracens 10 Toulon 3. Their prize is a quarter final at Clermont Auvergne, Saracens will face a rampant Glasgow Warriors at Allianz Park. I suspect both games will feature more 5 pointers and hopefully be as thrilling!