By J O'G
September 3 2017

It’s the start of the Season again and as normal it’s the Double Header. The weather report indicates perfect weather; warm and sunny but not too hot. Good trip in from Reading surrounded by Irish supporters again, good to see them back. Problems with the ticket; evidently the one I originally chose doesn’t actually exist so I’m moved to the other side in amongst the corporates. Then the rugby starts. So you probably know by now, that it was a one sided first half. Not record breaking, but the most one-sided since 2004. When you consider that neither of London Welsh’s premierships visits accounted for such a tonking; it puts it in perspective.  

Saints actually started quite brightly, taking advantage of a number of missed tackles from Sarries to make ground. The advantage though is generally limited to the initial break, mostly from Tom Collins. As soon as the defence gets back behind the ball though, it’s back to the normal defence from Sarries; Saints making no progress until finally the knock-on or run into touch ends the phase. Finally on around 8 minutes, Sarries get their hands on the ball with a jinking run from Alex Goode. He gets past the defence and a pop-pass to Jackson Wray would see him surging towards the line. Unfortunately, he drops it. But Sarries stay up that end of the field and a couple of minutes later a surge towards the posts. What is interesting about Sarries play today is they are offloading before the player gets tackled. It makes it difficult for the defence as there are actually no tackles to be made.

There is a drive towards the posts, Burger, Kock, Brits and Itoje all carry prominently until the ball comes out a few yards from the line. As the ball swings left, Loz gives a little short pass to Brad who crashes over. In fact he wasn’t touched, but even if a player was there you could not see him being stopped. Loz misses a pretty straightforward conversion. Mallinder kicks the restart out on the full and from the scrum Sarries get their hand on the ball. A couple of phases later and Brits starts off a wonderful passage of basketball passing between the forwards until Burger offloads to Wiggy who stretches over the line right under the posts. Loz does add the conversion this time.

The next ten minutes Northampton get their hands on the ball and run some phases but its all pedestrian and predictable after the Brazilian approach of the Sarries inter handling. Eventually they get a penalty that’s kickable after Sarries (Day) doesn’t roll away and in the aftermath of that passage of play Kruis and Eadie both leave the field, not to return. Mallinder adds insult to injury and misses a simple chance. They get the ball back from the drop-out and make a little ground but at no point do they threaten even the 22. Finally a kick to Goode gives him room to work and he spins out of three or four tackles down the left before it’s taken up to the 22. Two phases later the Saints defence is all over the place and when the ball goes wide on the right Maitland has loads of room to dot down in the corner. Missed conversion again.

Saints again get their hands on the ball quickly after the restart and make steady but unspectacular progress up to the 22 where they are again awarded a penalty. This time Mallinder gets Saints on the board. Again Saints take the ball but in their own half and when Goode climbs to take a catch on the Saints 10 yard line, he is taken out. No card but a Sarries penalty, which Loz doesn’t make again. Not sure why we didn’t go from the corner, but Sarries get the 22 restart back and run to the left and then to the right where Maitland wriggles round Wood and frees Brits on the touchline. He pops back in an overhead pass to Maitland who pops up to Wiggy who is brought down on the line. As the ball comes back, Loz realises there is no guard in place, so simply dives over. It might be because it was his try, he makes the conversion. Bonus point time at 29 minutes. Same time for a bonus point as the fastest one in the whole 16/17 season.

Saints win an inoccuous penalty when Sarries choke tackle. Unfortunately, Burger is actually choking him. They kick to the 22 but it all goes wrong and probably the best try of the day. The lineout throw goes wrong and Burger snaffles the ball on the ground and passes to Brits. He finds a gap and offloads to Koch. His offload to Maitland is delayed and perfect. Maitland accelerates into the gap and makes it into the corner despite Mallinder’s covering tackle. Only ten seconds or so from throw to try and all at top pace. The sixth try follows soon afterwards. Tuala makes a pigs ear of a kick and Sarries dive on it. The ball comes straight out to Brad who threads in a kick behind the defence. There is no covering player and Maitland actually gets ahead of the bouncing ball to catch and score at a standstill, for his hat-trick.

Three minutes later it’s try number seven as from a lineout following a penalty. Brits takes it on and offloads to Koch who comes round the corner and hits the gap in the Saints line at full bore and goes in under the posts. Simple and effective. You can see on the TV replay that Brits is telling Koch what he is going to do as he gets the ball; class. Loz gets that conversion to make it 41-3 at halftime. I’m certain that was the best Sarries half of play I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the Clermont Burger game at Twickenham might match it. Seems like the beach rugby in Bermuda was worth it.

The second half was a different story. Saints for a start must have had a rollocking and their approach was much more competitive. Pretty sure Sarries were slightly off the boil, but I also thought that Sarries were kicking the ball away at every opportunity to get a second half of defensive stints. Saints worked their way up to the Sarries 22 shortly after the start of the second half when a great bit of skill from Lewis Ludlam who fends off the tackler and runs into the gap behind. Some more tackling work needed this week perhaps.

We then had a spell of ‘normal’ rugby; with the ball being run and defended between the 10 yard lines until Duncan Taylor makes a great break through a hole. As the defence gets to him, the ball is recycled to Brits who slips into a hole under the posts. Loz gets the conversion and Brits is replaced by Spurling to applause all round and the eventual man of the match award. Amazing for 36.  

Saints keep plugging away though and return to their traditional brand of forward dominated driving. Wood, Hartley, Lawes and Waller to the fore. It gets a return as with a number of little gains they finally get to and over the line. Wood gets the score and its converted. Defensively Sarries are starting to make a few mistakes and shortly afterwards a kick to the corner from a needless penalty sees the ball come round the corner with Wood again getting a second try as he finds the bag at the bottom of the posts. Mallinder gets the conversion and Saints are halfway back at 48-24 with fifteen minutes to go.

However, the change for Ben Spencer puts a bit more zip in the Sarries approach and they start to retain possession and make some yards. Its not the basketball offloads of the first half, but more traditional pop-passes. With a penalty to Sarries and a lineout, there is a drive towards the line. Burger, Wray and Rhodes come close and from a ruck on the line Spencer dummies the guard and pops over. Excellently taken try and unfortunately the victim of the mistake is Mallinder. I was listening to the Eggchasers podcast yesterday on the way to the ground (excellent and worth the time). They were bigging up Mallinder junior. Perhaps he heard and it went to his head because he made a lot of mistakes. The game finished with Saints desperately trying to get a fourth try for a bonus point, but Sarries kept them out. A very entertaining game finished 55-24, with twelve tries in total     

The second game I saw bits and pieces of; Irish did well to beat Quins, 39-29. Reading was a nice place to go back to on the train as there were lots of happy faces on it.


Saracens: 15. Alex Goode, 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Duncan Taylor, 12. Brad Barritt (captain), 11. Nathan Earle, 10. Alex Lozowski, 9. Richard Wigglesworth; 1. Richard Barrington, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Dominic Day, 5. George Kruis, 6. Maro Itoje, 7. Schalk Burger, 8. Jackson Wray

Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17. Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18. Juan Figallo, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Michael Rhodes, 21. Ben Spencer, 22. Marcelo Bosch, 23. Chris Wyles

Northampton: 15. Ahsee Tuala, 14. Ben Foden, 13. Nafi Tuitavake, 12. Luther Burrell, 11. Tom Collins, 10. Harry Mallinder, 9. Nic Groom; 1. Alex Waller, 2. Dylan Hartley (captain), 3. Kieran Brookes, 4. Courtney Lawes, 5. Christian Day, 6. Tom Wood, 7. Lewis Ludlam, 8. Mitch Eadie

Replacements: 16. Mikey Haywood, 17. Campese Ma’afu, 18. Paul Hill, 19. David Ribbans, 20. Jamie Gibson, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. James Grayson, 23. Ken Pisi


Saracens:  Tries (9): Barritt, Wigglesworth, Maitland (3) Lozowski, Koch, Brits, Spencer; Conv: Lozowski (5)

Northampton Saints: Tries (3) Ludlam Wood (2); Conv: Mallinder (3); Pen: Mallinder

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (RFU)