Match preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 3 November 2013 – 3.00pm

Allianz Park, London

Aviva Premiership #7

It’s international season and there couldn’t really be a better time to play Saracens, one would have thought. No less than five of Mark McCall’s players will be in the England team on Saturday and so unavailable to play in Barnet on Sunday.

Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Billy and Mako Vunipola and debutant Joel Tomkins are all in Stuart Lancaster’s team to take on Australia at Twickenham, alongside former Falcons scrum-half Lee Dickson. David Wilson is on the bench with Toby Flood.

Tomkins is the left-field selection after less than two years in rugby union, indeed his Sarries debut only came last January, when he scored two tries against Worcester in the LV= Cup. Since then the former Wigan Warrior, who scored in the 2011 Challenge Cup final, has made 40 appearances for the men in black (and red).

His brother, Sam, is in the England Rugby League World Cup squad ahead of a move to New Zealand in the new year, and scored a try for the Barbarians in union in 2011.

There are however many England-capped Saracens players not in the squad of course, including locks Mouritz Botha and Steve Borthwick, backs Alex Goode and Charlie Hodgson, winger David Strettle and controversial prop Matt Stevens. Not forgetting former Sale scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth. In addition, there are several other internationals that will probably all be noticed once Sarries name what will no doubt be a very strong team. Not least, South African Schalk Brits, probably the best hooker I’ve seen play in this country.

The 2011 champions were the last team to lose a match in this season’s Premiership and their 41-20 reverse at Northampton last Saturday was the Londoners’ worst defeat in several years, Ben Foden scoring two of the Saints’ six tries. Before that however, it was five victories in a run that began with a 42-20 downing of London Irish at Twickenham on the opening day. Following that, Saracens again scored over 40 in pounding Gloucester at Allianz Park, and then they scored a 31-17 home victory over Bath 31-17.

A crunch London derby at the end of September ended with Saracens running out 12-22 winners against Harlequins at the Stoop and then Wasps became their next victims, losing 19-12 at Copthall despite outscoring their hosts by two tries to one and Chris Ashton suffering a yellow card.

Although Saracens remain top of the Premiership on 23, the big loss to Northampton leaves the Saints just a point behind, with Bath a further four adrift in third.

In the Heineken Cup, Saracens trundled to a 17-23 win over Connacht in Galway in their first group match and then lost out 16-17 to Toulouse at Wembley in a tense Friday night match that saw Owen Farrell miss a last-gasp drop-goal attempt.

This fixture dates back to the early 1980s but our club has only won twice at Saracens in 21 previous competitive visits, in the Decembers of 2001 and 2007. The latter was one of only two away Premiership games we won under the leadership of John Fletcher, who was relieved of his duties as Director of Rugby less than three months later. All of our England stars of the time were on the scoresheet – Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scoring tries and Jonny Wilkinson kicking two conversions and a penalty in front of 17,223 on a dark winter’s afternoon.

Perhaps worth having a look at that team:

M Tait, May (Phillips), Noon, Flood, Rudd (Visser), Wilkinson, Grindal (Charlton), Golding (Ward), Long (Thompson), Hayman, Perry, Sorenson, Parling, Woods (Williamson), B Wilson.

I count nine players in there who were internationals or would later play for their countries in that side, and but for injuries, Jonny Golding would surely have made it ten.

Falcons at Saracens:

27/09/1980             Bramley Road            Club Match                W15-3

09/04/1982             Bramley Road            Club Match                W25-6

26/01/1985             Bramley Road            Cup R3                        L13-16

12/12/1987             Bramley Road            Division 2                   D7-7

15/04/1995             Bramley Road            Division 2                   D16-16

19/04/1998             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L10-12

20/05/1999             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L26-40

17/10/1999             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L6-55

15/04/2001             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L29-34

09/12/2001             Vicarage Road            Premiership               W24-19

24/11/2002             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-17

13/01/2003             Vicarage Road            Challenge Cup QFL1 L10-31

22/02/2004             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L27-32

19/12/2004             Vicarage Road            Cup R6                       L20-22

28/01/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-32

20/11/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L18-27

17/09/2006             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L20-44

30/12/2007             Vicarage Road            Premiership               W22-19

21/09/2008             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L14-44

12/04/2009             Vicarage Road            Challenge Cup QF     L13-32

28/03/2010             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L15-58

27/03/2011             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L9-24

09/10/2011             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L5-25

It’s a shame the Supporters Club haven’t been able to put on a bus to this game, since it is our first visit to Allianz Park (not the Allianz Arena as I keep calling it by mistake – that’s somewhat bigger and in Germany! Though Saracens are probably English rugby’s equivalent of FC Hollywood) and promises to be a lot nicer than Vicarage Road was. We don’t often get new grounds in the Premiership but this year there’s two – Salford and Allianz Park, so it’s not just for the game that I’m quite looking forward to Sunday.

Also a weekend in back London beforehand, even if I will be back on the camp bed in Hampstead just a few months after I thought those days were behind me.

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

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