By King Zak
November 14 2011
So, it’s Heineken Cup time again and following last years less than convincing performance by the Men in Black, it was important they got off to a good start this time round. Opponents Treviso sit 6th in the newly branded RaboDirect Pro 12 league with 19 points from 8 games, having seen off Glasgow, Scarlets, Ulster and Dragons.
The game kicked off in bright sunny conditions following the impeccably observed minutes silence in memory of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The first notable happening in the game was the departure after less than two minutes of Andy Saull to the ‘blood bin’, to be replaced by Mr Reliable, Justin Melck. The first scoring opportunity fell to Sarries after just 4 minutes and rather set the pattern of the game –Trevisoconceding penalties. Farrell continued his excellent kicking form, slotting the ball over from the 15m line on the right side.
There then followed a sickening injury to Melck. Sarries were awarded a penalty near halfway which Hodgson kicked deep into theTreviso22. The lineout was lost and in the ensuing scramble for the ball, Melck took a blow to the head. He seemed to be unconscious immediately and received very lengthy treatment before leaving the pitch on a stretcher, complete with neck brace and oxygen mask. It was a great relief to see him reappear on the ‘bench’ just before halftime – complete with smile and somewhat dazed look! Fortunately Saull had been patched up and made his return to the fray.
The game, rather predictably, lost some shape and intensity following Melck’s injury and a handling error allowedTrevisofly half de Waal to kick the lose ball deep into Sarries territory. Barritt did extremely well to collect the ball running towards his own line and then stay on his feet long enough for help to arrive. De Kock completed the clearance but it was his last action of the day as he departed to be replaced by Ben Spencer. It was unclear exactly what the problem was, but it meant that Sarries had lost two players to injury in the first 17 minutes.
Sarries were now beginning to find their stride and looking to stretch theTrevisodefence at every opportunity. They nearly scored their first try of the day on 19 minutes when Joubert just failed to finish off a flowing move as he lost the ball just short of the try line. The lead was extended though asTrevisowere again penalised for offside and Farrell slotted the kick over.
The restart went straight into touch and Sarries were once again back on the front foot. The first try did arrive two minutes later and owed much to the persistence of Short and vision of Hodgson. Short chased aTrevisokick back into his own 22 and did well to keep the ball in play; he then set off on a devastating run, bursting through tackles in trademark fashion before being halted just outside theTreviso22. The ball was recycled quickly to Hodgson who put a chip kick towards theTrevisoline. The defence were unable to deal with the bobbling ball and Farrell dived to score in the right corner. He also added the extras from close to the touchline to take the lead out to 13-0.
Brits was then asked to ‘take a rest’ by the referee following a ‘tip’ tackle on de Jager. De Waal kicked the resultant penalty to getTrevisoon the scoreboard. In the absence of Brits, Kelly Brown took over the throwing duties at lineout time, with a certain degree of success, finding a black shirt on each occasion.
Farrell’s run of success from the kicking tee finally came to an end following yet anotherTrevisopenalty; closely followed by the referee losing his patience with the visitors, sending Vidal to join Brits on the naughty chair. Once again, Farrell missed but Saracens were now totally dominant, with Short looking particularly dangerous with ball in hand or chasing kicks. They almost extended their lead following a break by Wyles but were penalised as they drove towards the line. The half ended with Farrell kicking another penalty to give a score of 16-3 at the break.
The second try of the afternoon arrived on 47 minutes and was another lovely effort.Trevisolost a lineout in their own 22, Sarries moved the ball quickly through several phases before Brits delivered a delightful inside pass to Strettle who was able to stroll in untouched. Farrell added the conversion and Sarries were now looking dominant on the score board as well as the pitch. They were straight back on the attack again, with Short once more creating havoc in theTrevisodefence. His chase of Hodgson’s chip kick led to a Saracens lineout deep in the visitors 22. TheTrevisodefence remained firm and repelled the initial drive but good work from Strettle and Wyles once again threatened the line. The attack ended when Smith was held up over the line and the resulting scrum saw a complete front row change for the Men in Black. Gill & Stevens were replaced by Nieto and Carstens and former World Cup wining Captain, John Smit replaced Brits to make his Saracens debut. It was somewhat of an anti-climax when Sarries were penalised at the scrum allowingTrevisoto clear their lines.
The lead was extended further on the hour mark when Wyles dived into the right hand corner. A driving lineout led to the ball being moved wide at pace, a break through the middle by Farrell and off load to Wyles who forced his way over. The try was Wyles last contribution as he was replaced by Goode. Farrell missed the conversion but Sarries were now 3 tries to the good and in search of the bonus point win.
We didn’t have long to wait! Hodgson kicked another penalty into theTreviso22; the lineout was won and the ball moved quickly across the field. The drive down the right wing was stopped but as the ball was moved across field again, Joubert was recipient of ‘pass of the day’ from (I believe) Spencer. It was fast and flat, allowing the back row forward to step inside the would-be tackler to score on the wide left. Farrell made no mistake this time and Sarries were ahead 35-3.
Further changes saw Borthwick and Barritt replaced by George Kruis and Adam Powell; really emphasising the strength in depth of this Saracens squad.Trevisohad offered little by way of attacking threat but did get their first try on 74 minutes. Sarries were turned over on halfway and from the break, replacement Padro touched down; de Waal was successful with the conversion to give a score of 35-10. Sarries were reduced to 14 men for the final 6 minutes as Short hobbled off – all replacement having already been used.
It made little difference though as debut ‘boy’ Smit forced his way over and Farrell once again kicked the goal. There was just time for one more try fromTrevisothrough Sgarbi as he forced his way into the right corner. De Waal added the extras to give a final score, Saracens 43 – 17Treviso.
It was very much, job done by Sarries. It was also a very positive performance containing much imagination and desire to keep the ball moving at pace. Man of the Match went to Owen Farrell but there were several contenders and I would consider James Short particularly unfortunate not to have picked up that accolade.
So, first game successfully negotiated and five points (the only team to achieve such feat this week) in the bag; next week’s game will pose an altogether different challenge but I see no reason why this particular squad cannot keep the momentum going.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 David Strettle, 13 Owen Farrell, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 James Short, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock; 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Matt Stevens, 4 Steve Borthwick ©, 5 Hayden Smith, 6 Kelly Brown, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 George Kruis, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Adam Powell, 23 Alex Goode
Treviso: 15 Ludovico Nitoglia, 14 Benjamin De Jager, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Brendan Williams, 10 Willem De Waal, 9 Fabio Semenzato; 1 Michele Rizzo 2 Diego Vidal, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 4 Antonio Pavanello ©, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 6 Benjamin Vermaak, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 8 Robert Barbieri
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, 18 Pedro Di Santo, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Gonzalo Padrò, 21 Manoa Vosawai, 22 Kristopher Burton, 23 Tobias Botes
Referee John Lacey (Ire)
Attendance 5,077 (very disappointing for such an entertaining Heineken Cup game!)