A bit of a general rant before I get into the game in hand. This week in the Premiership saw three Friday evening fixtures –

  • Bath v Exeter – TV game – 102 Miles
  • Bristol v Northampton – 113 Miles
  • Wasps v Gloucester – 71 miles

Only one of those matches was on the TV, being the Bath match, I’ve seen comments about how small the crowd was at the Ricoh Stadium, just over 5,000 I believe. Many ‘home’ fand fans travel up from London, the ground isn’t the best to access and parking isn’t great, an M1 journey at the best of times isn’t great, then add in a Friday night. Bristol have an impressive home crowd and they had a crowd of over 18,000, I imagine most of them will have struggled through the Friday Bristol traffic, but to expect away fans to make that journey at the end of a working week is slightly crazy, the same goes for the Exeter fans. I just cannot understand the benefits of playing on a Friday evening when the game isn’t a TV match, it feels like the game shooting itself in the foot. Happily for Saracens fans Friday evening games aren’t allowed at the Stonex Stadium, a Friday evening M25 drive isn’t a pleasant one.

As Saracens v Sale was the only Sunday match, it was on the TV, Saracens again many will say! I’m going to point out the obvious in the make up of the teams (possibly a bit much from a Saracens fan) – so, a look at the 23 from each club.

  • Malins
  • 14 Sean Maitland – Scotland (born NZ)
  • 13 Alex Lozowski – England
  • 12 Nick Tompkins – Wales
  • 11 Rotimi Segun – England
  • 10 Alex Goode – England
  • 9 Aled Davies – Wales
  • 1 Mako Vunipola – England
  • 2 Ethan Lewis – Wales
  • 3 Vincent Koch – South Africa
  • 4 Maro Itoje – England
  • 5 Tim Swinson – Scotland
  • 6 Nick Isiekwe – England
  • 7 Jackson Wray – England
  • 8 Billy Vunipola – England

16 – Kapeli Pifeleti (USA), 17 – Richard Barrington (England) , 18 – Alec Clarey ( England) 19 – Theo McFarland (Samoa) , 20 – Ben Earl (England) , 21 – Ivan Vany Zyl (South Africa) , 22 – Dom Morris (England) , 23 – Alex Lewington (England) .

  • 15 Simon Hammersley – England
  • 14 Byron McGuigan – Scotland
  • 13 Sam James – England
  • 12 Rohan van Rensburg – South Africa
  • 11 Tom Roebuck – England
  • 10 AJ MacGinty – USA (born Dublin)
  • 9 Raffi Quirke – England
  • 1 Bevan Rodd – England
  • 2 Akker van der Merwe – South Africa
  • 3 Nick Schonert – South Africa
  • 4 Jean-Luc du Preez – South Africa
  • 5 Lood de Jager – South Africa
  • 6 Jono Ross – South Africa
  • 7 Ben Curry – England
  • 8 Daniel du Preez – South Africa

16 – Ewan Ashman (Toronto) , 17 – Ross Harrison (England), 18 – Coenie Oosthuizen (South Africa) , 19 – JP du Preez (South Africa), 20 – Tom Curry (England), 21 – Gus Warr (England), 22 – Robert du Preez (South Africa) , 23 – Luke James (England)

The first notable thing about that Sale Sharks line up is that there are 3 sets of brothers and within that, 2 sets of identical twins, which makes it a real familt affair. The second notable fact is that there were 7 South Africans in the starting XV with McGuigan coming being born in Namibia and growing up in South Africa. Another 3 players from South Africa were on the bench. I’d believed only 2 ‘foreign players’ could play in but the following points need to be taken into account.

Foreign players

The legal definition of foreign players is different to one of non-English players.

Bosman and Kolpak

The Bosman ruling reinforced the Treaty of Rome in a sporting context, allowing the free movement of EU national workers around other EU countries. This effectively means any EU national has the same rights as any ‘local’ worker and therefore cannot be defined as a foreigner.

Premiership rules

The rule on foreign players has been amended to come into line with the regulations in European competitions. A maximum of two foreign players can now be on the pitch at any one time, at all periods during the season.

The level of English Qualified Players (EQP) in the Premiership has been fairly consistent since the inception of the league, at around 61-63%. This means on average there is something like 165 English players playing every weekend in the Premiership.

Taking all of that into account, the South African players aren’t counted as Foreign players (They come under Kolpak), but to have 10 players in the starting 23 seems to be a lot to me, I’m not convinced that’s great for Premiership Rugby.

On to the actual game – Sale had played 8 won 3 and drawn 1 , Saracens, a game behind had played 7 and won 5, with a draw to add in too. Both teams had internationals back from the Autumn Internationals, Saracens were missing captain Owen Farrell and Hooker Jamie George, both injured while playing for England. Manu Tuilagi was missing for Sale after his injury playing for England.

Alex Lozowski started the scoring off for the home team with a kick at goal, Sale gave away 3 early penalties in the ruck, the first of which was kicked at goal.. By the end of the match both teams had conceded 12 penalties, but they swapped places, with Sale giving away more in the first and Saracens the second. It was a surprise to me that Saracens weren’t put on a warning on that second half.

If I was trying to interpret this game purely on stats, with one exception, I might think Sale must have been the winners, they came out on top in all but 1 of the Attack areas, Saracens won 6 mauls to Sale’s 4. On the defensive front, this was a huge effort from Saracens, they made 200 tackles, but missed 29.

Nick Isekwie taking the ball

The stats that truly make the difference are of course those figures on the scoreboard, Saracens extended their lead when Vincent Koch cleverly touched down as Saracens rolled over the line from a line out, Lozowski added the extras. The only other points of the half came from the boot of Lozowski on 40 minutes. A mention for Rotimi Segun, he put more than a few of those 200 tackles in and with some power too. Sale had lost captain Jono Ross to a head injury at 21 minutes, but Tom Curry is no shoddy replacement. That put the 2 sets of identical twins on the pitch.

Raffi Quirke impressed

On 45 minutes Byron McGuigan gave rise to the hugely negative stat for Sale Sharks, I can only think he saw a Red Mist. Sean Maitland had conceded a penalty after pushing a Sale player down after he’d tackled him close to the line, a values of the game thing according to the TMO, that tackle should maybe have been looked at more closely as it did appear to be high,, Ethan Lewis had also given away a penalty for shoving Quirke, who fairly flew onto the floor; 2 silly penalties. On to the really strange actions of McGuigan; Nick Tompkins stood up after being involved in a huge defensive effort close to the Saracens line, McGuigan Seemed to think he was in some sort of wrestling contest as he grabbed Tompkins by the throat and threw him, one throw wasn’t enough, Tompkins did nothing in reply and was thrown again for his troubles, Nick Isekwie did get involved but McGuigan was able to carry on with his madness, it looked like he kicked him on the floor too, if not striking him with the knee. The only option was a red card, and Sale were down to 14 for the remaining 35 minutes. It’s interesting to hear the referee telling Tompkins not to get involved in anything else, I’m not sure being thrown twice constituted being involved.

Sean Maitland certainlly got involved a few minutes later, having dropped a ball forward in attack and my good friend Alun half joking, calling for him to be substituted, he received a beauty of a pass from Billy Vunipola, who’d dummied to run through the defence, Mako isn’t the only Forward Vunipola with the hands of a Fly Half!

A huge defensive effort kept Saracens in the game

Maro Itoje gave away a penalty and was lucky not to be shown a card as he went flying into MacGinty, the incident, which looked reckless, was looked at and deemed to be just a penalty. That one, may well be cited.

The penalties started piling up against Saracens and the 14 men of Sale were next on the score sheet, a ta and go penalty was taken into contact and Ben Curry picked the ball from the base of the ruck to get over the liine. There’s something about Saracens and 14 men, I felt nervous for some reason, surely it couldn’t happen again?

Sale upped their game when they went down to 14

BT concentrated on Max Malins while there was a break in play, singing his praises and lo a couple of minutes later after Saracens had won a penalty in the scrum, Alex Goode, playing at 10, kicked to touch. Goode threw a great long pass to Malins who in turn passed out to Segun. Saracens attacked through their forwards before the ball came to Malins after a magical turn from Goode to put Malis into space, a lovely try for the Full Back. The conversion was good and the lead was 18 with 7 minutes remaining.

Max Malins is the top try scorer in the Prem with 8 so far this season

I’d enjoyed watching Raffi Quirke play and he was the beneficiary of a great run by Rob du Preez, a lovely try for Sale and my nerves were back! A talented young scrum half, I’m hoping he makes the England shirt his own. Happily for this Saracens fan there were no further points scored, The game finished with the score on Saracens 25 Sale Sharks 14.

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