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March 30 2020

Today Behind the Bench reminds us of that Easter Sunday in the suburbs of Paris when Bosch did his stuff.     Racing Metro 92 11-12 Saracens European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter Final Stade Yves du Manoir Sunday 5 April 2015  

A test of patience, endurance, belief and skill, and never giving up until the last seconds.
But enough about being stuck on a train which didn't move for an hour on the way to the match with kick off looming.

Sarries showed the forward power which was all too lacking in that broken down train and vitally staying in the game, and, with just ten seconds to go, Marcelo Bosch easily converted the match-winning kick from 40 metres. Whisper it quietly, but he might even be cooler than Ben Spencer. [" A Last Tango in Paris?", Ed]

Saracens' fourth win in five against Racing means they are now the standard-bearers for England in the semi-final as they renew acquaintances with ASM Clermont Auvergne in St Etienne on Saturday 18 April. 

As expected, a number of players returned for Racing Metro in adjustments from the side who won last Friday in the Top14 at Bayonne. Ten of the starting XV were French qualified, and there were three changes compared with the side which won comprehensively at Franklins Gardens in the last pool game. One of those changes was at full back with Brice Dulin coming in, with Juan Imhoff and Teddy Thomas on the wings, and Jamie Roberts accompanying Henry Chavanchy in the centres. Jonathan Sexton was at fly half and Maxime Machenaud at scrum half. An all French front row featured Eddy Ben Arous, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and Luc Ducalcon, whilst Luke Charteris partnered Francois van der Merwe at lock and the French international back row comprised of Wenceslas Lauret, Camille Gerondeau and Antonie Claasen. 

Saracens made three changes from the side which played so well against Harlequins. An unchanged back five saw Alex Goode at full back, Chris Ashton and David Strettle on the wings and a centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Chris Wyles. Charlie Hodgson continued at fly half with Richard Wigglesworth captaining the side from scrum half. The front row featured Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and the returning Petrus du Plessis, whilst George Kruis was alongside Jim Hamilton, with Alistair Hargreaves having left the action at Wembley early for a head injury assessment. An unchanged back row included Jackson Wray, Jacques Burger and Billy Vunipola, whilst Schalk Brits made a welcome return to the bench. 

Saracens started the match encouragingly, enjoying the early territory and possession which yielded the opening score for Hodgson as he made it 3-0 from 40 metres in the sixth minute. The hosts began to find their rhythm after being thwarted by some fine Saracens turnovers and created their first opening on nine minutes when Roberts burst down the right and found Claasen, but Thomas' charge was halted and Sarries escaped. They went even closer in the 14th minute but were deemed to have knocked on from the rolling maul in a decision which went to the TMO. 

The visitors' defence was relentless as the home side started to have more of the ball but failed to do anything with it in what was beginning to be a stop-start encounter. However, Sarries had a golden opportunity to go further ahead after 20 minutes when Hodgson, Bosch and Goode combined incisively down the right flank, forcing Dulin to carry into touch at the expense of a five metre lineout, but the hosts forced the clearing penalty. It soon got worse for the visitors. Sexton took play deep into the Sarries 22 after an infringement by Billy Vunipola and a further offence in the aftermath of the lineout saw Hamilton yellow carded. From the second lineout, Machenaud spun off the rolling maul to score to the right of the posts but Sexton clipped the left hand post with the attempted conversion so it remained 5-3. 

A rather bizarre period of play emerged in the aftermath, though. Perhaps to eat up some of Hamilton's time in the sin bin, Hodgson tried two difficult kicks from 40 metres out after Racing offended at the breakdown and then illegally challenged George Kruis to a high ball. Racing responded with a fine break by Machenaud who was at the heart of their best attacking play only for Ducalcon to knock on, whilst, in contrast, Saracens were more composed in possession. Wigglesworth and Hodgson linked up well from a scrum, but Wyles just failed to connect with Ashton's kick through for what would have been a stylish try. However, the late pressure did reap a reward as it was third time lucky for Hodgson to make it 6-5 to Saracens at the interval. 

The early stages of the second half followed a similar pattern to that of the first, with Racing staging some promising build ups only to blunt their efforts through unforced knock-ons. A clever kick and chase saw Saracens retain possession and they went through the phases, eventually winning a penalty as the hosts strayed off their feet, and Goode stepped up to make it 9-5 to Sarries with 46 minutes on the clock. When Sexton's restart sailed dead, it seemed to sum up their lack of accuracy which was harming their efforts. 

A flurry of substitutions for both sides around the 50 minute mark saw changes to both front rows headlines by the warmly-received return of Brits to action after such a long time out. Before his late heroics, Bosch had made an absolutely decisive contribution on 53 minutes, as, after another fine move initiated by Machenaud, a firm tackle by the centre forced Imhoff to knock on when he looked odds on to score. It was one of many examples of the resilience Saracens showed throughout the match, as moments later, when Goode was forced to concede a five metre lineout, they recovered to stage a priceless steal from it. However, Billy Vunipola was penalised from the ensuing pressure and Machenaud narrowed the Racing deficit to one point with 23 minutes to go. 

Unsurprisingly, the match became discernably more cagey in the last quarter with both sides kicking much more but Goode continued to prove solid under the high ball and the Saracens line speed in defence was good, minimising the ability of Thomas to counter attack from kicks forward. This meant that although a one point lead appeared precarious, they seemed in control as they were playing the game in the right areas of the pitch. Itoje and Neil de Kock had entered the fray for Hamilton and Wigglesworth by this stage. 

However, going into the last ten minutes, the home side hit the front. A faulty Saracens lineout gave them possession just inside the opposition half and they won a scrum penalty in the play which followed. Machenaud duly made it 11-9 from 40 metres, from
wide on the right. Forced to chase the game, and after such a brave effort, errors began to creep into the visitors play. 

With six minutes remaining, Strettle did well to retain possession on the left flank and play flowed across the pitch only for their best move of the half to be abruptly blunted by a Bosch knock-on. Machenaud, who was announced man of the match (as pointed out already on the messageboard this always seems odd ahead of full time), looked to counter quickly, but was crucially hauled into touch. But when Hodgson's forward pass gave Racing the ball on half-way, with little more than two minutes left, it looked like the final chance had gone as the home side worked through the phases to run the clock down. Vitally, though, in the final analysis, Saracens had kept them within kicking range, or at least Bosch's range that is, and when the penalty came as Racing strayed off their feet with ten seconds left, he did the rest. 

A lot of the pre-match analysis had talked about the importance of experience. But why is it so important? In contrast to Bath who were in a similar position to Saracens, but couldn't force the win, Sarries showed the calmness, decision making, and of course execution under pressure to deliver the win. 

The victory leaves something of a conundrum for the next two weeks which will be intriguing, with three out of the remaining four Premiership games against fellow challengers, there is still some work to be done to finish in the top two. But that's for another day, and for now, another memory to savour, and, perhaps, one on the way to the biggest one of all...

Racing Metro:
15 Brice Dulin; 14 Juan Imhoff (Johannes Goosen 57); 13 Henry Chavanchy; 12 Jamie Roberts (Alexandre Dumoulin 52); 11 Teddy Thomas; 10 Jonny Sexton (Mike Phillips 76); 9 Maxime Machenaud; 1 Eddy Ben Arous (Julien Brugnaut 52); 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (Virgile Larcombe 52); 3 Luc Ducalcon (Brian Mujati 52); 4 Luke Charteris; 5 Francois van der Merwe (Fabrice Metz 76); 6 Wenceslas Lauret; 7 Camille Gerondeau (Thibault Dubarry 56)

Sub not used: N/A

15 Alex Goode; 14 Chris Ashton; 13 Marcelo Bosch; 12 Chris Wyles; 11 David Strettle; 10 Charlie Hodgson; 9 Richard Wigglesworth (Neil de Kock 65); 1 Mako Vunipola (Rhys Gill 54); 2 Jamie George (Schalk Brits 54); 3 Petrus du Plessis (Jamie Johnston 52); 4 George Kruis; 5 Jim Hamilton (Maro Itoje 57); 6 Jackson Wray (Kelly Brown 52); 7 Jacques Burger; 8 Billy Vunipola

Subs not used: Matt Hankin, Nick Tompkins.

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)

Attendance: 13500

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Discussion started by , 30/03/2020 13:33
30/03/2020 13:33
If you are enjoying these trips down memory lane do let us know along with any suggestions of memorable days you would like to relive

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2020:04:05:18:53:17 by Darraghgirl.

01/04/2020 06:09
Do we have the Pilkington? Cup Final victory over W*sps? Or does that date back to a previous incarnation of this site?

721.05 (*) donated to the Saracens Foundation due to visits to the Sarries frontpage []

Please read and submit articles for publication.

(*) As at October 31, 2018.

01/04/2020 07:24
Do we have the Pilkington? Cup Final victory over W*sps? Or does that date back to a previous incarnation of this site?

Sorry it only goes back to 2002 (Sm136)

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