Watching Saracens during the 6 Nations has been interesting in recent years. With only one 6 Nations game in my diary this year I’ve been to more club games than I usually make during this spell. The results during this time have been –
8th Feb – Worcester 22 Saracens 38
16th Feb – Saracens 33 Leicester Tigers 10
22nd Feb – Gloucester 30 Saracens 24
2nd March – Saracens 36 Northampton Saints 17
8th March – Bath 18 Saracens 9
A mixed bag to say the least, the first of the 5 matches was the Premiership Rugby Cup Semi-Final and was a match I didn’t manage to get to. I won’t be missing the final at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday however, hoping for a Saracens win on my birthday! I’ve got photos galore to share, so a few thoughts on the other matches.
Saracens minus their internationals played Tigers minus theirs and came up trumps, getting a good home win.
What have we learnt during this 6 Nations period? One of the first things for me is that Saracens don’t put out ‘weak’ teams – here’s the team for the match at Kingsholm
- – Richard Barrington
- – Christopher Tolofua **
- – Vincent Koch **
- – Nick Isekwie **
- – Dominic Day **
- – Michael Rhodes
- – Schalk Burger **
- – Jackson Wray
- – Richard Wigglesworth **
- – Alex Goode **
- – Alex Lewington*
- – Brad Barritt **
- – Alex Lozowski **
- – David Strettle **
- – Matt Gallagher*
- – Tom Woolstencroft, 17 – Titi Lamositele, 18 – Christian Judge, 19 – Will Skelton**, 20 – Calum Clark*, 21 – Ben Spencer**, 22 – Max Malins*, 23 – Nick Tompkins*
The players with 2 ** have received full international caps, those with 1* have played international rugby at age group level or for the Lions. So, while this wasn’t Saracens first choice team, it was not a weak team. Saracens train as a unit, with the younger players joining first team players on a regular basis, that means the systems Saracens use are familiar to all.
Kingsholm is a difficult place to play, especially on a Friday night, this Gloucester team have a talented back line, a line which is run by one Danny Cipriani. He’s been in great form for his new team for the majority of the season. They have some great players throughout the team, with a fully fit Ben Morgan making his mark again.
Gloucester won this match because they were the better team, Saracens kept kicking the ball to their dynamic backs, who kept running it back at them. In looking at the stats though, Saracens missed 27 tackles and only won 75% of their own line outs. Most teams would struggle to win a game with those stats.
The score was Gloucester 16 Saracens 3 at half time and the home team pulled away in the second half scoring 3 tries to Saracens 1 by the 74th minute to take that score to 30 to 10. The fact that Saracens scored a 2 further tries in the remaining time to scrape a bonus point is a testament to the strength on the bench. I’d say we learnt that Gloucester can play some great rugby, especially when supported by their very vocal fans. And ‘game changers’ can sometimes really earn that title.
I’d been known to have a miserable time in Gloucester but I sat next to a very pleasant father and son, casual Gloucester fans, they picked the right match to come to!
Next up were Saints at home, they’d been on a fine run of form, including inflicting a whooping on Sale Sharks, beating the 67 to 17. I was unsure of how this match would go, but, in the first half at least it was like watching the matches between the 2 teams last season. It was almost as if Saints were expecting to lose, that brain freeze was still there. They too pulled back in the second half, but this was another good win for Saracens. We learnt that Saracens in the Premiership at least, remain something of a bogey team for Saints.
And so we went on to another Friday night game, against a Bath team whose season hadn’t been going too well. It was a wet evening, which means no photos from the match from me. It also meant an attritional game of rugby, the home team coped better with the conditions. More stats on this one, Saracens missed 21 tackles this time and conceded 19 penalties.
That tackle count was an indication that a few heads went on the Saracens team, not a very technical term but there was something not right. One such player, Michael Rhodes was cited for dangerous play in a ruck after the fact, he was lucky to receive just a 3 week ban. The team was perhaps luckier that he didn’t see the red card that should’ve been shown during the match. As it was the end result was a win for Bath. One that was a huge boost for the team and fans alike, the home team seemed to go about the whole thing with more determination.
Perhaps we’ve learnt that Saracens don’t play well away from home on a Friday night. They remain second in the league however, Gloucester beat both Exeter Chiefs in this 6 Nations window and Harlequins who were closing the gap on Saracens in third. Saracens next Premiership Rugby match is against Harlequins at the London Stadium, that could be very interesting, an 8 pointer in football terms. But hopefully they’ll have won a final before that match!