A week can bring big changes, last week we seemed to be in Spring at Allianz Park, this weekend we appeared to be back in Winter! That might be down to the cricket season starting, or just the vagaries of good old English weather.
Last week Saracens played Glasgow Warriors in the Quarter Final of the Champions Cup. Something special has happened between the 2 sets of fans and Supporters Associations after the teams met in the same competition a couple of years ago. Friendships have been formed and time has been spent away from the matches between the 2 clubs.
For this weekend we had the evening, before the match at Allianz Park, eating curry, watching rugby and listening to the wonderful Kelly Brown. He really is an inspiration, he’s suffers from a stammer and has fought to overcome it. He told us about a particularly disastrous interview after a Scotland match, he knew if he was to become captain of his country he’d need to overcome that stammer. To a very large degree he’s found ways to cope and did attain his dream.
Kelly answered questions from both sets of fans and posed for photos galore, the evening was a great success and friendships were further cemented.
I’d had the surreal experience of being at the England 38 Scotland 38 match, and was expecting a close match against Glasgow. Saracens hadn’t really fired on all cylinders all season, in spite of their success.
The first news on reaching the ground was that Owen Farrell wasn’t playing, his wife was in labour and he was, rightly, at her side. That meant a shuffle putting Alex Goode at 10. Funnily enough Farrell had injured his hand warming up for the group game against Glasgow seeing Goode playing a great game at 10.
Glasgow started at 100mph with Ali Price scoring a great try after just 3 minutes, Adam Hastings converted the try to put his team ahead by 7. Saracens replied minutes later through a Liam Williams try converted by Alex Lozowski. A mad 6 minutes with 14 points scored!
Honours even in those opening minutes, Saracens scored a further 2 tries in the first half with David Strettle (the late replacement) and Brad Barritt touching down. Hastings converted 2 penalties to see Glasgow in touching distance. The score was Saracens 22 Glasgow 13 at half time.
Ido have to make a mention of Stuart Hogg’s hair, it’s probably enough to say he seems to be preparing to be a Chiefs player!
That was no real indication of what was to come in the second half. Saracens scored another 4 tries, with a second for Williams and Strettle, and tries for Jamie George and Nick Tompkins. Glasgow scored 2 through George Horne and a late try for Matt Fagerson. This was no close game, Saracens played probably their best game of the season, with the final score being Saracens 56 Glasgow Warriors 27, I called this one completely wrong!
A mention for Sir, Nigel Owens, he made having a ref link worth the money alone, as we’d expect he communicated well and took no nonsense. Including refusing to take line-out numbers when the team throwing in, mostly Saracens, were late to the party. I’d never heard that before, but, fair do’s!
That win sees Saracens playing Munster in the semi-final at the Ricoh Arena and Glasgow returning home to push for their place in the competition next year. Scottish rugby is definitely on the up, with Edinburgh being the other beaten quarter finalists, both teams are gaining big game experience and I’m sure both will progress in the future.
And so to this week, back to Premiership rugby, with Newcastle Falcons as the visitors and a Saracens team that had a fair few changes, with Owen Farrell back at 10 and back as captain, as Brad Barritt had left the pitch with an ankle injury against Glasgow.
The Saracens team that had dominated in Europe didn’t turn up in the first 40, in fact I’d go as far as to say it was the worst 40 minutes of rugby I’d seen from Saracens this season, pretty much nothing went right. Newcastle won 67% of the rucks in the match and had 62% of the possession. Saracens were barely in the Newcastle half in the first 40. Balls were dropped and knocked on and Farrell kicked straight into touch 3 times, It was rather pot and kettle when he shouted at Nick Tompkins for missing a pass I thought.
However Newcastle failed to take advantage of their advantage, they did score 2 penalties in that first half, but Saracens scored a break away try with Sean Maitland touching down. The teams went in at Saracens 5 Newcastle 6 at half time.
Today’s Sir was Karl Dickson, a referee I really like, but, it was notable that he didn’t take the same stance when Newcastle in particular were late to the line out. Consistency is certainly and issue at times.
I can only imagine there was some shouting or a rousing speech at half time because a Saracens team that could actually play rugby came out for the second 40.
Amazingly, bearing in mind the stats mentioned Saracens turned this round to gain a bonus point win, with Max Malins, who really shone and deserved Man of the Match in my opinion, Nick Tompkins and Alex Lozowski scoring, to give the home crowd something to shout about.
Newcastle added a further 2 penalties, but left with nothing as the score finished on Saracens 26 Newcastle 12. I wouldn’t have been unhappy to see the Falcons leave with a losing bonus point. The win sees Saracens with a definite play off place, they now need to secure a home semi-final with matches against Bristol, Wasps and Worcester away and Exeter Chiefs at home to play.