Saracens fans had last attended a Premiership Rugby match at what was Allianz Park on March 7th 2020 as the home team beat Leicester Tigers. A season out of the top league saw just a few fans able to attend a couple of Championship games, this was the first time back after an Annus Horribilis. The weather was a delight, after a deluge at Welford Road last week, we could’ve been forgiven for thinking this was a Springtime match!
I was sat in my new season ticket seat for the first time; a decent view when the numerous people walking up and down throughout the game weren’t blocking it. I am going to start with a moan – I may well be unusual in not being a drinker, but I just can’t understand the idea that the beer is the main attraction. People were, late to their seats, unable to sit for more than 10 minutes without having to go for beer, feeling the need to beat the queues at half time, late back from half-time, going for more beer during the second half, then early to leave the game! I’m sure some people come for the beer with a spot of rugby on the side. Each to their own but it is annoying when it affects the experience for others.
And now for the game, Saracens saw a yellow card early when Sean Maitland caught the Falcons Fly Half Brett Connan in the face, Connan’s dip saved him from a red. There were just over 7 minutes on the clock. Owen Farrell put the first points of the game on the board, after a Newcastle penalty was walked 10 metres after Gary Graham laughed at Sir. A directive to the referee’s to ensure the respect stays in the game.
With less than 2 minutes on the card, Mike Brown, on his Falcons debut went in under the posts, a clever piece of work from the experienced player, it was almost inevitable he’d get onto the score sheet. Only 7 points conceded with 14 men on the pitch, with a net difference of 4. However after Connan ripped the ball from Billy Vunipola’s hands in Saracens’ 22 Centre Ben Stevenson picked a ball up on the bounce, he went between 2 Saracens to run in and score near the corner. A very difficult kick was converted by Connan.
Saracens looked to have scored through Tim Swinson after Max Malins burst through after a neat pass from Farrell. Malins offload was sublime, it deserved a try, Swinsons’ touch down was not, great work by the Falcons defender to hold the ball up. The ball was touched down by Falcons, so we had out first Goal Line Drop Out of the game, all very Rugby League!
Watching back now, it’s not good to see the Saracens captain, Farrell, losing his temper and shouting, that’s something he has to control.
Having lost 9 line outs against Tigers Saracens fared better in this game, losing just 2. Moving Nick Isekwie to 6 giving them another line out jumper.
Saracens were awarded a penalty on the half hour, but it was reversed as new prop Marco Riccioni shoved a Falcons player in the back, no idea how the commentary team missed that fact, as they lay the blame on Billy Vunipola. That put Falcons on 17, a healthy 14 point lead. Yet again I’m really struggling with the ex Wasps player commentating – give me more Topsy Ojo please!
Saracens were awarded a penalty in the line out which gave them another closer to the Falcons line, able to set their maul up properly this time they rumbled over the line. Jamie George realistically scored the try, but George McGuigan pulled the maul down resulting in a penalty try and a yellow for the Hooker. Saracens had closed the gap to 7 as half-time approached.
With 30 seconds of the McGuigan card remaining, and now in the second half, Saracens kicked to touch after being awarded a penalty, a further penalty was awarded and Jamie George took a quick tap to storm over the line. That try I didn’t see at all, with people standing to let others in after their beer trips; quick thinking by the Saracens Hooker.
One ex England Full Back was on the pitch and it was clear that Mike Brown hasn’t lost his skills, especially under a high ball, another probable England star in the making, Max Malins started at Full Back for Saracens, he was a cracking player before his ‘sojourn’ at Bristol, he’s building to be a player full of class and vision. An interesting ‘missing’ factor in the match today was the Falcons winger Adam Radwan. He was clearly on the pitch, but was totally taken out of the equation by the Saracens defence, it was clear that Malins was keeping him in his sights at all times too.
Newcastle gave away 6 consecutive penalties in the first 12 minutes of the second half, it was a surprise not to hear them given a warning. let alone shown a yellow card. It was Mako Vunipola who benefited from the next penalty as he broke out of the maul to score, an absolute talent it was great to see him back in Saracens colours, a Fly Half in a Props’ body is my preferred way of referring to this man, he has amazing hands for such a big bloke!
A head high tackle on Alex Lewington by Gary Graham was only deemed worthy of a penalty, a lucky break for the Scot considering Maitland’s early card. Farrell kicked this one at goal, extended Saracens lead to 10 points.
Stevenson put a try saving tackle in on Nick Tompkins as he rushed down the pitch, an important contribution just before he was substituted. Saracens conceded their first penalty of the half moments later with a high tackle, but there was no joy for Falcons on this occasion. They did however keep themselves in losing bonus point contention with a kick at goal after another Saracens penalty. Connan sent the ball sailing through the posts.
Farrell added another 3 points when Falcons conceded another penalty, Callum Chick not allowing the jumper to land. That took the losing bonus point away from the Falcons. However Connan had the opportunity to claw it back from the kick off with his third successful penalty.
Saracens hadn’t finished scoring and with yet another penalty Saracens went for the corner, then, another penalty, another kick to the corner. Billy Vunipola picked the ball up after the first maul went to the ground, diving over to score Saracen’s bonus point try. A great end to a great game for Vunipola. The score finished on Saracens 37 Newcastle 23.