Monday 17th May saw new freedoms in most of the UK, it also saw rugby at the renamed StoneX Stadium! I was one of the lucky season ticket holders to get my hands on a ticket. I couldn’t have been happier or more excited to be at a game of rugby, and I’ve been at some memorable occasions in the last 12 years or so!
Saracens started this new era in the Championship with an away loss to the Cornish Pirates, a well deserved team for the home team, the score was Cornish Pirates 25 Saracens 17. A chastening start to this new league to the team. To a degree that caused some panic amongst Saracens and sadly some joy amongst many fans of the Premiership clubs. This match was in the midst of the 6 Nations on March 6th, when most of the ‘big names’ in the Saracens squad were away on international duty.
I should imagine the journey home was a quiet one, this club really needs to be in the top tier to survive as the Saracens we know. The news came through that those involved with England in particular wanted to be involved in helping the club they’d been with since a young age get back to the Premiership. Since that first match the results have looked like this –
- Saracens 57 Jersey Reds 13
- Richmond 4 Saracens 32
- Saracens 54 Bedford Blues 13
- Doncaster 15 Saracens 50
- Saracens 48 Ealing Trainlfinders 20
- Nottingham 0 Saracens 56
The key match amongst those games is the win against a rampant Ealing Trailfinders, they’d beaten a Saracens team twice in the pre-season warm up games, they didn’t however beat a team that included Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and the returning Nick Tompkins and Alex Goode. I’d therefore judge that the answer to a question asked on a rugby website – ‘Was this a psychological blow landed before these sides set about seeking promotion to the Premiership?’ is a resounding NO.
My article on the Champions Cup win against Racing Metro in 2016 came up in my Facebook memories this week, the match was a penalties fest so not too much to write about, but this paragraph stood out for me – ‘One Saracens player in particular was outstanding – 21 year old Maro Itoje was rightly named 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 World Class already, he will be very soon.’
While none of the England players had a good 6 Nations, it’s clear that now the Saracens contingent are back ‘home’ they’re happy and determined to see Saracens back where they were ejected from. As a good friend said this week; Saracens aren’t in the Championship because of any difficulty on the pitch. They really should be getting the sort of results they have, especially with their ‘star’ players back.
It’s clear that the level has been raised across the team post 6 Nations, with a noticeable improvement from the likes of scrum half Aled Davies and Lock Joel Kpoku as they line up next to international and in some cases British and Irish Lions players.
The opposition on this Monday evening Ampthill RUFC have a close association with Saracens, with several of those in Saracens’ 23 having had time at the club and with several of their fringe players out on loan this season. Their co-operation was needed in order to move this game to enable fans to attend. A quick look at their line up, with some background where I can find it – (I notice that Dave Ward is on the Ampthill books, he didn’t feature). Apologies to Will Brown, who for me is a mystery man.
- 15 Cameron Anderson – Scotland U20, Wasps Dual Reg
- 14 Will Brown –
- 13 David Halaifonua – London Scottish, Coventry
- 12 Jarryd Sage – Welsh qualified, South African, Dragons
- 11 Spencer Sutherland – Esher
- 10 Louis Grimoldby – Harlequins
- 9 Will Porter – England U18, Wasps
- 1 Jamie Jack – Nottingham Rugby
- 2 Sydney Blackmore – Bath Rugby
- 3 Aleki Lutui – Tonga (38 caps), Worcester, Edinburgh, Gloucester
- 4 Charlie Beckett – Leicester Tigers (Academy), Jersey Reds, Gloucester
- 5 Llewelyn Jones – Wales U18. Llanelli, Ealing, Nottingham
- 6 Alex Humfrey – Neath, Bath, Richmond
- 7 Sam Hudson – Otley, England Rugby North U20’s
- 8 Devante Onojaife – Northampton Saints
- 16 Elrick
- 17 Flynn
- 18 Collins
- 19 Johnson
- 20 Arthur
- 21 Law
- 22 Bennett
- 23 Hudson
That was an interesting exercise for me, and in spite of the fact Saracens scored 11 tries on the night, it explains why this was a much more competitive match than the scoreline suggest. Louis Grimoldby in particular impressed, especially with his kicking from hand. The match wasn’t without a bit of spice, Charlie Beckett in particular seemed to want to get into some fisticuffs in the first half, the ‘seconds out’ bell raised some laughter in the stand during once such handbags session. Things on that front calmed down in the second half, but it seemed to spur Saracens on amongst other factors.
Nick Tompkins back from his spell with Welsh side Dragons opened Saracens account with just 4 minutes on the clock, he’s deceptively strong for a reasonably slight man (in rugby terms), although he had the weight of the pack behind him for this first try. The second was a more familiar sight as Jamie George took the ball at the back of the maul to rumble over.
There were no penalty kicks at goal in this game, and Ampthill took the same route as Saracens when awarded one in a kickable position, they too kicked, well, for the corner. Their first foray was to no avail and Saracens found themselves back in the Ampthill half, Tompkins picked up his second using that aforementioned strength. The scored was 21 Nil after the first 20 minutes.
Ampthill kept up their pressure on the Saracens line and got a deserved try through Syd Blackmore, it was good to hear Ampthill voices in the crowd as well as the home fans appreciating both the intent and the resulting try. Saracens hit back quickly through Sean Maitland after Aled Davies made a decisive run, he strolled over in the corner and Saracens had the much needed bonus point try. The conversion was missed for this one.
Ampthill lost Will Porter to a yellow card for a late tackle, Sean Maitland scored his second, taking advantage of the space. The score was Saracens 33 Ampthill 7 at half-time.
The second half started with the best try of the game with Owen Farrell putting in a cross field kick for All Crossdale to gather, his sprint to the line was a delight to behold (As a Saracens fan). Elliot Daly was the ‘try maker’ for the next, playing in his best position (in my opinion) at Centre, he threw a fast pass to Fullback Elliot Obatoyinbo, who’s grown at 15 on a weekly basis, to jinx his way to the line.
A Saracens substitution brought the loudest applause of the night as Alex Goode entered the fray having returned from Japan, he’s played for Saracens over 300 times and is to say the least, a club legend. He slotted in at 10 as Owen Farrell headed for the bench. Tom Woolstencroft on for Jamie George, scored 2 tries in quick succession to take Saracens to their half -century.
Ampthill scored a cracking try with 10 minutes remaining, a clever grubber kick landed well for Spencer Sutherland who beat Obatoyinbo to the ball to score a memorable 5 points.
Saracens had more in the tank and eventual man of the match Ali Crossdale, benefited from some Alex Goode magic to score their 10th. Dom Morris scored with the final move of the game to round off an emphatic win. The final score was Saracens 69 Ampthill 12. Saracens move into second place in the table with games against Coventry and Hartpury to come. Ealing Trailfinders have played an extra game, and have 5 points and a superior points difference of 51 over Saracens. The 2 top teams will face each other in double header play offs on June 12th and 19th.
The photos aren’t the best, the light and weather didn’t help, but wow it felt good to be pointing my camera at rugby union!