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January 12 2020

  I could not help comparing the match to the trip to Limerick. Both fairly big Celtic towns with evidence all around of hard times, but with a town centre providing a modicum of new development. Both providing slate grey skies with the promise of wind and rain. The difference was in the home supporters; Munster up for it and the talk in the town all about the upcoming game, Swansea seemingly indifferent to it, more interested with taking cash off the visitors from London. We walked to the stadium, a mistake as it was raining and not even any decent pubs to make a detour in. The Ospreys supporters bar was welcoming and warm and at last there was talk of the game. The thought was that we hadn’t quite brought a strong enough side. Even if that side had got a losing bonus point at Munster and Ospreys were frankly rubbish, Saracens really needed a bonus point win.The weather looked grim; plenty of dropped passes seemed to be likely and in fact proved to occur.   

The match started well enough, the new ginger Carre made a few holes and Sarries were suddenly pressing the Ospreys line. Good defence kept us around the 22 until a penalty advantage came to nothing. A fairly simple kick but the wind was pretty strong, blowing diagonally slightly more across than end to end. Manu slotted it easily enough and from the restart catastrophe. We collected the kick-off and true to form box-kicked. Ospreys ran it back and Evans the fullback was double tackled by Isiekwe and Carre. I would say that Carre was slightly misdirected as they both went for the chest. He could not wrap his arm (as Nick was in the way) and the hit probably made him go slightly higher. The replays seemed to indicate the initial contact was shoulder to shoulder, but Evans head jerked with the impact and a red card for Carre was the result. 

To make matters worse Ospreys kicked to the corner and after a bit of huff and puff managed to get awarded a penalty to draw level. In the stands we were all doom and gloom, dad’s army Fraser style, our European adventure likely in tatters. However Sarries regrouped, swapped Bazza for the young Obatoyinbo (making his European debut) and we looked to keep it tight in the wet weather. Playing a good kick-chase game, plus some good drives from Skeltonm we played mostly in the Ospreys half. It does seem that generally if a referee sends off a player, then the side down to 14 does seem to get the marginal calls for the next while. Sarries got some of those now, although a fair few forward passes were not called. Playing territory in the other half (even against the wind) was getting results because a Sarries’ penalty got us 3 points whereas Ospreys could only kick for touch. Over the next 25 minutes, the score rose from 3-3 to 3-6, then 3-9, then 3-12. Ospreys did have a couple of kickable penalties but every time chose to kick to the corner and were kept out. 

Then an odd bit of play, with two attempted turnovers in fairly close succession. I can’t remember if the Ospreys one was the penalty for 3-9 or 3-12 but in any case it was just run of the mill. With 32 minutes on the clock Clarke was seemingly correctly tackling for the ball but additionally jostling the scrum-half’s attempt to get the ball away. It didn’t seem worth anything more than a penalty but the referee gave Clarke 10 minutes in the bin. I should say that the referee wasn’t helping the game any; he was stopping the game flow (actually from a Sarries’ perspective a good thing) but also gave some odd decisions. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a scrum back for a restart where players were in front of the kicker. Even odder because at the next Ospreys restart it didn’t go 10 and he let that go. There was a comment I liked in the Guardian report. ‘Ruiz resembled a traffic policeman at the Champs-Elysees, the more he whistled the less he seemed in control’ 

This was a disaster, 13 men but also Ospreys seemed to think they were in with a chance; which in fact they were. The first attempt was a bit of a scare; the ball played into the left corner and with penalty advantage then put out wide where Lewington was against two men. The ball went too high and in a contest in the air, Lewington palmed it back. It went over the dead-ball line and I was scared it would be deemed deliberate (think Brock at Twickenham against Clermont) and a penalty-try / yellow card outcome. After endless replays we went back for the previous advantage which Ospreys tried to kick and missed.  A lot of huff and puff from the 22 restart and it seemed that Sarries’ defence, even with 13, was going to hold out. A penalty, a lineout in the corner and despite a strong drive Ospreys were held up. Sarries though had put too many men into the defence of the maul and as it came out there was an overlap in the centre and the first of Evans’ tries, a walk in under the posts. Still it was almost half-time and with only 2 minutes to survive in the second half, not quite the disaster it seemed. 

However Ospreys started brightly from the restart; during half-time the wind had got up a bit, not anywhere near as bad as Munster, but a definite advantage. One minute off the clock and as Clarke stripped off and stood ready to come on, Ospreys kept hold of the ball and went through the phases until again they went to the left, drove in the forwards to suck in all the cover and then to the right for full-back Evans again to go in on the right. This time though he missed the kick and at 15-12 the draw seemed possible. With the stronger wind, Sarries were able to kick possession well forcing Ospreys for most of the second half to run back out of their own 22. Seemed a sensible tactic as Ospreys didn’t seem to know how to break the defence down. 

Then Sarries’ moment; Wiggy had been kicking long all of the second half, making the Ospreys back three drop right back well into the 22. This time he kicked short, the Ospreys winger having to make a lot of ground. It was a perfect kick, caught by Lewington at full speed and he went past the Ospreys’ cover who were trying hard to switch from ball gathering to defence too quickly. He ran in, oddly we thought not quite under the posts, but making Manu’s kick a little more tricky. He didn’t falter, slotting home his fifth kick out of five compared to the home 2 out of 4. After that the stuffing seemed to go out of Ospreys, they didn’t really offer anything much apart from Morgan the number 11 who looked a handful all day. He should have scored two tries, but seemed to fall over with the line at his mercy. The rest of the game, apart from two darts by Morgan, was played around the Ospreys’ 22. They would attempt to run the ball with little or no effect against a solid Saracens defence and finally would kick the ball to halfway. Sarries would win the lineout, run it or kick-chase back into the Ospreys’ 22 where the cycle would begin again. The last 10 minutes were more about Sarries adding to their total than Ospreys drawing level. In fact a penalty was given with ten to go and the difference was now 7 points 

A wonderful rip by Kpoku, very Itoje like, with him bashing off potential tacklers and almost making it to the posts. The ball didn’t quite get to the line out wide. Then another little interplay with Manu and Tompkins, with Manu juggling the ball and dicing with the touchline just like Sella all those years ago. He managed to stay infield, hold on to the ball and make the inside pass. Unfortunately, Tompkins got two defenders at the same time as the pass; in fact we thought before the pass, but the referee gave a knock-on. Still a wonderful performance by what was a second team with 14 men the whole game. On balance though Ospreys were largely toothless with their moments only coming when they were playing 13 men and the multiple phases gave them a big overlap. Wiggy deserving man of the match controlling the play with wonderful box-kicks. Cannot see Munster failing to get 5 points at Thomond Park next wee 

With one game left Saracens have it all in their hands with a win at home to Racing next week all but sealing the deal. They could be denied by a Munster win in France, or a Gloucester bonus-point win at Toulouse next week (both unlikely) and if they qualify a trip to Leinster, Exeter or Toulouse the likely options. I’d quite like the trip to Toulouse please.  

Ospreys: D Evans; Dirksen, North, Thomas-Wheeler, L Morgan; Price, Venter; Marfo, Otten, Fia, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Lydiate (capt), Cross, M Morris.

Replacements: Parry, Fawcett, Gardiner, Ashley, Baker, A Davies, C Evans, Klim. 

Saracens: Obatoyinbo; Maitland, Lozowski, Tompkins, Lewington; M Vunipola, Wigglesworth; Carre, Singleton, Lamositele, Skelton, Kruis, Isiekwe, Clark, Wray (capt).

Replacements: Woolstencroft, Barrington, Koch, Kpoku, Reffell, Whiteley, Segun, Crossdale.


Ospreys 15: Tries- Evans (2) Conv: Price; Pen: Price

Saracens 22: Try: Lewington; Conv: Vunipola; Pen: Vunipola (5)

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)

Assistants: Ludovic Cayre (France) & Cedric Marchat (France)

TMO: Patrick Dellac (France)  

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Discussion started by , 12/01/2020 20:32
12/01/2020 20:32
Thanks Jeremy
For some reason your report ended up in the junk mail (absolutely no reflection on the standard of the writing!!)

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2020:01:20:21:17:36 by Darraghgirl.

The Bard
13/01/2020 20:38
Excellent thorough summary. The influence of George Kruis should not be underestimated. The line outs were simple, crisp and well executed in total contrast to the other European aways . Both Jack and Wolfie looked very capable operators under George’s supervision.

15/01/2020 09:51
Thanks for the Sella comment, JO'G. I had been wondering whose elusive style Manu has been copying, and that's it. And not just in that moment. I wonder if he knows it.

I was 17 miles from Graybridge before I was caught by the school leopard

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