March 5 2013
So our 2nd premiership match atAllianzPark brought AP newcomers London Welsh to play. Recent results had dragged them into the relegation fight made worse by an impending RFU hearing over the eligibility of scrum half Tyson Keats. They were likely therefore to be scrapping for their lives and a clear potential banana skin for Sarries.
We got the Sarries Express, which is working well. 27 on our bus becoming increasingly chatty as we get to know each other, a SarriesDVDcovering last 2 matches and other bits played. A combination of everybody being at their bus stops early, less traffic and a savvy driver meant that we arrived at AzP 30 minutes early a full 1 hour and 45 minutes before kick off. I think we had on rare occasions been as early toVicarage Roadand it may even have been closed! At best there were a handful of people in the stadium and bars.
At Allianz there was no such issues. Our bus squeezed into one of the last places in the coach park and getting off we were approached by touts asking if we had tickets for sale. Touts at a Saracen home match, excluding Wembley, the world has turned on its head! The pioneers on the gate with their hand scanners were pleasant and helpful and we walked into the ground and what a sight met us. The pitch was covered with kids playing touch and in case we forget this was less than 2 hours before a premiership match. A quick look along the back of the North stand showed the merchandise stall and various food and drink outlets including Domino’s and the Jolly Hog. Each outlet had customers and people were milling around drinking and eating.
We trotted over to the long bar and got some drinks and took a wander around the ground. Everywhere there were people and the Southeast concourse has really come on with benches and landscaping including a large Saracens motif. The back of the South stand had more busy concessions and then we got toSarries Street. The smell hits you first and not in a bad way as long as you like a curry smell and we wandered passed stalls selling schnitzel, NY hot dogs, wraps and of course curry. Also here is the Barnet Mencap juice bar.
Back to the long bar to meet some friends. Surprisingly the band was playing and the brass band wandered through playing too. The bar was already filling and the thing I love about the bar is its openness. People who we used to nod to rushing out of VR now stop and chat and groups form over the place. So much so that we suddenly realized it was 5 minutes to kick off and rushed to our seats. As we were climbing the stairs DYHTPS was belting out and it seemed to us that many of the people in block 5 were singing with many people leaving the verses and belting out the chorus. Personally I like this song. The players ran out to a vociferous reception; what a difference moving a few miles makes. The match was described as a sell out but there seemed a few hundred empty seats maybe missing season ticket holders or perhaps they’d chosen to stand.
The match started. Hargreaves had replaced Kruis and Sarries soon appeared to quickly try to establish the ascendancy, moving the ball swiftly and a sweeping move breaking down a few metres from the Welsh try line. This was to be a feature of the first half where Sarries appeared over ambitious at times with 5 handling errors in first 20 minutes; 9 by half time. The expected supremacy in the scrums didn’t materialize and it soon appeared Rhys Gill was struggling with a shoulder injury. Rhys was replaced by Nick Auterac after 20 minutes, after which the scrum improved. LW were desperately defending, often illegally, and 2 Hodgson penalties put Sarries ahead. However, for the second week running, errors in attack resulted in a breakout, Sarries eventually running out of defenders and Short being unable to stop Stegman scything through to score. Our returning not so favorite son, Gavin Henson, failed in the conversion leaving the score 6-5.
Sarries upped the tempo, taking quick lineouts and running free kicks, and the penalty count mounted. Eventually the ref sent Phil McKenzie to the bin, although there were complaints that Joel Tomkins had used a forearm during the attack and may be cited. Sarries started kicking to the corners and, from a lineout drive, the maul was pulled down and a penalty try resulted, together with the LW prop Bristow joining McKenzie on the naughty step. Each side then traded penalties and LW’s fighting attitude showed when they got Henson into position to hit a wobbly drop goal that bounced over off the crossbar, making the half time score 16-11.
I missed the Angels, for a second week, being in the bar, so can’t comment on half time entertainment. Sarries came out in the second half firing. Penalties were swapped. Sarries kept pushing and a simple scissor move in midfield between Charlie and Taylor put Tomkins into space. Joel was still looking to offload as he crossed the line under the attention of 3 defenders. His first AP try.
More was soon to follow with a superb score by Will Fraser after smart hands by Strettle and Brits gave Will the ball out wide. As he approached the line, tackles coming in, he shifted the ball away from the touchline and dropped his knees to increase the chance of scoring, which he did.
Welsh didn’t stop fighting and a strong attack saw Henson touch down, but the try was ruled out for blocking in the midfield. The look on Gav’s face was priceless, especially as the brass band belted out the Strictly tune. Matters became worse when Strettle scored the bonus point try, with Henson claiming he’d been blacked in midfield. TheTMOwasn’t used for once, much to Lyn Jones’s disgust. Looking back at the recording, it seemed Tomkins caught Henson’s arm and, as Ben Kay described (on ESPN’s television coverage), Henson went down like he was shot, in true Strictly style. Maybe this theatrical move lost the chance of a review?
Both sides kept playing and, with 2 minutes left, we had the current Sarries pet hate. The “Fat Lady” appeared during a break in lay for a quick burst whilst the big screen described him as being in the doghouse. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this stunt, which personally I don’t understand. The drummers and brass band played throughout, the drummers are renowned for trying to drown out lineout calls etc. It’s a bit of fun that’s all and I quite enjoy it.
Final score was 35-14 (my prediction league would have been exact but for the wobbly drop goal, grrr!).
Then back to the joys of Allianz Park. The bar was full, the band was playing. People were all over the pitch rugby balls flying. ESPN were reported to say it’s becoming their favorite venue with both the pizzas and pies finding favour. Its still not finished and is going to be superb when it is.
Sarries had been frustrating. A 5-point win for the 3rd time in row, but they had been inaccurate and full of errors, especially in the first half. You have to worry that Quins will punish such indiscretions. However, let’s remember where we are, top of the table by 4 points, joint top of the bonus point league and the Quins match is sold out.
Thinking on theAllianzParkexperience, I decided it makes me smile. It’s an enjoyable day and the smile is getting wider each visit. It’s currently nice on many levels to be a Sarries supporter; the losses will come, but I suspect we will still be laughing and singing in the bar, or walking over the pitch.
Saracens Wyles; Short (Ransom, 70), Tomkins, Taylor (Mordt, 52), Strettle; Hodgson, Wigglesworth (De Kock, 52); Gill, Brits (George, 63), Stevens (Du Plessis, 59), Borthwick, Hargreaves (Botha, 52), Wray, Fraser, Saull, 67), Joubert.
Tries Penalty, Tomkins, Fraser, Strettle Cons Hodgson 3 Pens Hodgson 3.
London Welsh Arscott; Mackenzie, Parker, Jewell, Stegmann; Henson, Keats (Davies, 78); Bristow, Bateman (D George, 57), Tideswell, Mills (capt), Kulemin (Corker, 57), Carbellow Farias, Hills, To'oala (Browne, 60).
Try Stegmann Pens Henson 2 Drop goal Henson. Sin-bin Mackenzie 30, Bristow 35.
Referee L Pearce (RFU). Attendance 9,968
Great review. A funny old game, we're normally better facing an uphill battle against a top team. For the second game running Shorty guilty of 'tackling' too high and a try resulting.
Very little about the pitch now in the match reports, I can't see it being too long before others have committed to the same route.