I’m watching this one form the warmth of my sofa, huge credit to those who travelled to France just before Christmas! Saracens had a strong team but were missing one of their key players, talisman Maro Itoje, he was injured in training. They went into this match unbeaten, I’m slightly perturbed that we have Lawrence Dallaglio bigging up Saracens before the match, most unusual. We’ve just seen Owen Farrell’s try saving tackle last week, after his pass had been intercepted, I hadn’t realised he’d pushed Mako Vunipola out of the way in the build up to his tackle, not sure how that would’ve gone down!
It was interesting to hear of Lyon’s 30 Million Euro budget, that’s around £26M in today’s money, it’s no wonder Premiership teams find it hard to compete in Europe, with their £5.4M salary cap. How a team finds that much money is another question, there’s no way any team in the Premiership could raise that sort of sum.
4 minutes in and those travelling Saracens fans can be heard cheering their team on as Farrell slotted the first points of the game. The first scrum of the afternoon went Saracens way after a Lyon knock on, as did the first scrum penalty.
Ivan Van Zyl and Sean Maitland almost conspired to mess up a ball kicked towards them moments later, happily they bundled the attacking Lyon player into touch, only to see their 2nd line out loss to Lyon. Luckily for them the Lyon winger dropped the ball with the line beckoning. Saracens won a penalty in the scrum, to help them clear their lines, the kick taking them close to the half way line. Could they win this line out? This one they took and Ben Earl stormed down the pitch after a great pass from Billy Vunipola. Another penalty put Saracens close to the 5 metre line, a line out they really needed to win. The line out was won, the maul pulled down, giving Saracens another penalty. A yellow card was shown to the perpetrator, Lambey, cue boos from the partisan crowd. Lyon were lucky to get away without giving away a penalty try. However Jamie George scored from the next maul, as Saracens won their line out, Theo McFarland had been quiet against Edinburgh, he took the line out ball and would hopefully feature more. The conversion was missed but Saracens had a lead of 8 after 15 minutes.
The Irish referee Frank Murphy showed his discontent at the number of penalties given away by Lyon by a long blow on his whistle. There was a hint of a high tackle on Farrell, but he was going down as the player tackled him, so nothing happening there. As play progressed Ben Earl was there to take a short pass from Farrell, he had space in front of him and ran in to score. Alex Lozowski had switched the direction of play earlier in the move. The conversion was good and Saracens had 15 points on the board after 22 minutes. The card was proving to be a costly one.
We had the sight of Mc Farland taking the line out ball with one hand before Farrell dropped the ball as Saracens attacked. A scrum put in for Lyon they moved the ball out quickly and scored through Hamza Kaabeche after his backs had taken the ball close to the line. Full Back Alexandre Tchaptchet making a particularly good run.
Tchaptchet then dropped the ball to put his side in some difficulty, but a penalty given away by Alex Lewington, rolling on the floor with ball in hand helped Lyon move right into Saracens half. With another Penalty in the locker we had the wonderful sight of a prop running out on the wing as Kaabeche scored his and Lyon’s second try with space galore. The kick went wide but Lyon had 10 points on the scoreboard.
A Lozowski pass into touch halted a promising Saracens attack, Lyon were looking increasingly dangerous with ball in hand. Alex Lewington intercepted a pass, choosing to kick the ball ahead, he was on the receiver very quickly and the ball was pushed into touch. A line out virtually on the 5 metre line, but Ivan van Zyl dropped the ball at the back of the maul, an unusual mistake from the Saracens 9, he seemed to be looking for his next pass rather than the ball. Just before half time, it would’ve been a perfect time to score. The teams went in at half-time with the score on Lyon 10 Saracens 15.
Lyon opened the scoring in the first half as Tavite Veredamu passed the ball with one hand (it was a thing in this match) to Smith in the wing who ran down the fairly empty line to score , the conversion was good and Lyon had a 2 point lead. The try was a very good one and not shown again as there was some aggro after what was a good but hard tackle on Farrell.
Saracens looked shell shocked and as play went on we could hear an angry Farrell questioning a tackle which he felt took a player over the horizontal. Farrell sounded very rattled, that’s not a good thing for Saracens. No idea what that incident was that also wasn’t shown again. Trying to get the name of the try scorer from Twitter it looked like both clubs were having difficulty with posting. We had another exchange between Farrell and the referee, after he was tackled by a player offside, not great.
Maitland made an error as Saracens attacked, failing to release the ball as he was tackled, Lyon missed touch but soon had the ball back, in spite of what looked like a clear knock on.
Max Malins entered the fray for Saracens his first appearance after injury for a while. Another one handed pass out onto the wing by a Lyon forward this time saw them go close as the ball was kicked ahead, Lozowski got back just in time. With the game moving at 100mph the ball soon moved up the other end of the pitch as Lozowski broke through, Jamie George was on his shoulder and he put in a lovely kick, taken by Sean Maitland who ran in to score. It was some kick by the Saracens Hooker, this was a match for the front row to do great things (and no such great things late in the game) In an effort to influence things we did then have a replay, I’m not sure of what, but the officials weren’t interested and the try was awarded The influence TV directors try to impart is a concern at times. The referee stood firm on the try and it was 3 Tries apiece and a 5 point lead for Saracens.
Lyon gave away a couple of penalties, the second in kicking distance for Farrell, in a decent spot, he stretched the lead to 8 to a cacophony of boos and whistles as is the French way.
We had a spell when both teams played some scintillating rugby, a high tackle by Lozowski slowed the pace for a moment. This was European rugby at its best, with neither team truly on top on 63 minutes.
Saracens won another Lyon line out but conceded a penalty giving Lyon the opportunity to close the gap. A bloodied (Knees white) Smith kicking a simple 3 points. A couple of Saracens players had black tight type things on, I don’t know why more don’t do that on 4G pitches.
In what looked like a game chaining moment Alec Clarey went too high in a tackle, his shoulder hitting the Lyon players head, that unfortunately is a red card in anyone’s book; Saracens were down to 14 with 15 minutes remaining. Callum Hunter-Hill also left the field with what looked like a nasty injury, that being the reason the tackle was looked at again. The right and fair decision however.
Andy Christie rose salmon like to steal the ball from the resulting line out, that saw the 14 men of Saracens on the attack. A poor clearing kick gave Saracens a line out close to the 5m line, this time McFarland took the ball in the line out. In spite of good field position Saracens were penalised for an extra roll on the ground, again. That put things back where they were for the original penalty.
A promising attack for Lyon came to a stop when the ball was passed into touch. The Saracens throw wasn’t straight, the sensible choice for Lyon was to take a scrum, forcing a replacement prop on, Riccione was back in the fray, Maitland’s game was over for the evening.
Lyon won a penalty in the scrum, they surged forward but lost the ball so that penalty was taken. a 5 metre line out was the result. McFarland disrupted then won the ball, the skills of a basketball player are incredibly useful in a line out! Lyon won the next one however, in the midst of Lyon’s attack was a pretty iffy clear out on a defending Saracens player, but not seen (and of course no replay) the play carried on. A penalty was given against Saracens a couple of plays later however. McFarland contested the line out again and Saracens won a penalty to clear their lines.
Saracens were awarded another penalty in the line out as the game ticked away, with the kick taking them just into Lyon’s half. , they then worked with another penalty, Lyon were racking them up! The decision with 79 minutes on the clock was an Elliot Daly kick at goal. Daly, of course, took his time; he also took the 3 points, the kick took the game to full time and this was a special win for Saracens. A much better trip for the Saracens fans than the one taken to Dublin by Gloucester fans. This was another cracking game of European Rugby, a close run thing is so much better than a rout!