European Rugby is back! There’s something special about this competition, I try to watch as much of it as I can. That meant 2 games for me over this first weekend – Harlequins v La Rochelle followed by Northampton Saints v Saracens.
I’m maybe an odd sports fan, I have my teams but I have soft spots for several others, whether that’s cricket or rugby. On the rugby front one of those is Quins, it’s a team I admire and a place I enjoy watching rugby, I had no guilt in singing along to the Mighty Quins as this wasn’t the Premiership.
I was at the game thanks to 2 lovely Quins friends Nick and Gill and had a Patisserie Valerie lunch with another 2 great Quins friends Sue and Henry before the match, both of which were lovely added bonuses! What wasn’t a bonus was that for some stupid reason I deleted most of the photos I took at the Stoop.
After the fact and with lots of cricket writing to do I’m going to be brief on both games. The Quins/La Rochelle match was one of the best games of rugby I’ve seen in a long time. La Rochelle were something of an unknown quantity, this was their first foray in the top tier of European rugby, would they travel well? Many French teams don’t play at all well on their travels, this team had in their starting XV, 8 Frenchmen, 3 Islanders, 1 South African, Ryan Lamb and 2 Kiwis, including one Victor Vito. As opposed to Harlequins who started with 12 Englishmen, Tim Visser, Matt Luamanu and James Horwill.
The short answer to the travel issue, my goodness travelling is no problem for La Rochelle! They were basically HUGE, but that didn’t mean they weren’t skilful, they played some beautiful rugby, largely directed by the Englishman Ryan Lamb, apart from a dodgy 10 minutes in the second half he was brilliant!
That brilliance was matched by the 18 year old Marcus Smith playing at Fly Half for Quins, making his debut in Europe against a team of giants he was a total delight to behold. Both teams played some champagne rugby, it was European rugby at its best.
La Rochelle scored 4 tries to Quins 3, although the home team battered the visitors line as time was running away, but La Rochelle can defend as well as they attacked and their line didn’t look like being breached. A penalty was awarded and Marcus Smith was given the task of securing a losing bonus point. This lad isn’t only superb with ball in hand he’s also a bit good with the boot. With the penalty scored the scores finished Harlequins 27 La Rochelle 34.
Next up was a trip to Northampton, and lunch with another 2 great friends, Maria, a Saint and Andrea a Tiger/Quin, a decent roast lunch eaten and Maria and I headed off to Franklin’s Gardens. It was a lovely day, all caused by a Hurricane making it’s way across from America apparently.
Unlike Saturday this was a one sided affair, the previous meeting of these 2 teams on the opening weekend of the Premiership season saw a crazy scoreline of Saracens 55 Saints 24. An incredibly disheartening start for the team from the Midlands, however they brushed themselves down and won their next 4 games before being halted by Gloucester who hd themselves been thrashed by Sale Sharks the weekend before. Saracens went from Twickenham to Bath, where they were beaten. Premiership wise it’s being a topsy turvy season so far.
Saracens had since won every game, but until they encountered Wasps last weekend I didn’t feel that they’d truly found their mojo. However this was the Champions Cup and Saracens are the current champions, in fact double champions unbeaten for 18 matches, they turned up with their ‘mojo’ at 150%! Where Saturday’s match was a brilliant one all round , this was a brilliant performance from Saracens.
I will touch on one ‘incident’ or rather tackle, that caused many in the crowd to lose their composure and spoil what had been an immaculate silence for kicks at goal. Owen Farrell tackled Ben Foden, it did look like the sort of tackle that would see a yellow card brandished, but the referee in tandem with the TMO decided differently. There was a display of handbags as Teimana Harrison decided to leap at Farrell, most of the Saints fans seemed to ignore his part in the ensuing fracas and label Farrell as the pantomime villain to boo at for most of the remainder of the game. I have to say that won’t have affected him negatively at all, I did have to tell a man in front of me that I didn’t understand why he was berating me as I wasn’t the referee!
Back to the actual rugby, Saracens ran riot scoring 8 Tries, for long spells Saints didn’t see any attacking ball at all, this was a miserable day at the office for them. There were top performances across the pitch for Saracens, with new boy Liam Williams scoring 2 tries, he was joined by another 6 Saracens including Callum Clarke on his return to his long term home. Ben Spencer took the prize for the cheekiest score of the afternoon to add insult to injury, touching down a ball that was sitting waiting to be picked up by a Saint behind their line, that just about summed up the Saints’ afternoon.
Northampton Saints did get over the line, Mark McCall will be disappointed by that, but the score finished on a familiar note Saints 13 Saracens 57. One bright light for the home team was the performance of Courtney Lawes, he seems to be in the form of his life. Saints now have to lift themselves to play Clermont Auvergne in France, Saracens face Ospreys at Allianz Park. I would comment that Maria needed to see Tom Wood after the match having bought a beautiful wooden board for him, the Saints players we saw while we were waiting were very pleasant and posed for photos with this lady in Saracens colours, which can’t have been an easy thing to do.