Sunday 26 January 2014 – 3.00pm
Allianz Park, London
LV= Cup Pools 1 and 4 #3
How concerned are Saracens at facing the Falcons at home in the LV= Cup on Sunday? Not very it seems, since they have a friendly at Allianz Park against South African side The Sharks tomorrow afternoon.
I guess when you’re top of the league, top of your LV= pool and in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, you must have a decent squad.
Sarries have a maximum ten points in Pool 1 of this competition after a 21-24 win at Wasps and a 51-10 home destruction of Scarlets in October. Newport and Gloucester have four each and London Irish zero, so the Fez Boyz are odds-on favourites to reach the semi-finals even if next week they wrap up their pool campaign at Northampton.
The Saints top our section, Pool 4, with nine points, followed by Scarlets and ourselves with four apiece and Wasps prop up the table with a single point. We host the Dragons on Friday night in the final pool match, and a win is possible in that one, but it may be a dead rubber by then.
The fixtures we need to be looking out for this week and next are:
24/01 Scarlets v Gloucester
25/01 Dragons v Northampton (on Sky in case anyone wants to watch it)
25/01 Wasps v London Irish
01/02 Gloucester v Wasps
01/02 Northampton v Saracens
01/02 London Irish v Scarlets
As I said, Saracens have had a decent season so far. They were placed in a favourable-looking group in the Heineken Cup, with Connacht and Zebre making up the numbers with the Londoners and Toulouse. Despite two defeats to the French side, including a fantastic match at Wembley in October that ended in a 16-17 win for Toby Flood’s future employers, Mark McCall’s side secured the eighth seed spot in the quarter-finals by pounding Connacht 64-6 at home last Saturday. In April, their European adventure continues away to unbeaten Ulster.
In the Premiership, the 2011 champions have an excellent record of 11 wins and a single defeat from 12 matches so far. A routine 8-29 victory at Gloucester at the start of January brought up the 50-point mark for the season and puts Sarries three points ahead of Northampton in second. After that, there is an 11-point gap down to third-placed Bath, meaning that Allianz Park and Franklin’s Gardens are looking good to host the play-off semi-finals in May.
The only defeat Saracens have suffered in the league this season came at Northampton in October, by the surprisingly high score of 41-20. Scotland’s Duncan Taylor and Kelly Brown scored for the visitors and Alex Goode kicked ten points, but Goode’s England adversary Ben Foden crossed twice among the Midlanders’ six scores.
The following week, they took their frustration out on the Falcons, sending us home from Allianz Park with a 40-3 defeat to contemplate. David Strettle led the way with two of his team’s five tries that day, Charlie Hodgson, Jamie George and Goode the other try-scorers. In 12 matches since that reverse at Franklin’s Gardens, only Toulouse in France a fortnight ago have gotten the better of the Men in Black and Red.
In the professional era, the Falcons have only won twice away to Saracens, both times at Vicarage Road. The match in December 2007 in particular was a fantastic game of rugby, our boys sneaking the points with a 19-22 victory inspired by our four England stars of the time. Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scored the tries, and Jonny Wilkinson converted two as well as kicking the vital penalty that won the game.
In the Saracens team that day was Adam Powell, and former Falcons captain Hugh Vyvyan scored one of the hosts’ tries.
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 3rd round 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
03/11/2013 Allianz Park Premiership L3-40
When Saracens first got their investment from South Africa, they were not the most popular club in England to say the least. However, it seems that this dislike has toned down a bit more recently. I think there is much to admire about Saracens. They have bought in a lot of star players, like Hodgson, Strettle, Chris Ashton, Steve Borthwick, Schalk Brits, but they have also developed a plethora of young stars themselves.
People like the aforementioned Goode and Owen Farrell. Jamie George had a great game against the Falcons and looks to have a very bright future in rugby. They taken players like Mako Vunipola and Brad Barritt and made them top quality players. The new stadium in Barnet is on the whole a nice place to watch rugby, and though it may not be completely perfectly located with regard to public transport, there are plenty of staff dotted around the area to help supporters get there via free shuttle buses.
Above all, you get the feeling at Allianz Park that this is a team and an organisation singularly intent on being the very best in every way, and not shy about taking risks and working hard to get there. As a bonus, there is none of the pretentiousness that visiting fans sometimes experience at places like Leicester or Northampton. Sarries may not always get everything right, but as I say there is much to admire about them and much we and other clubs could learn from them.
Simon Hammersley, Ben Morris, Dan Temm and Glen Young all make debuts for a Falcons side captained by Chris York, and Zach Kibirige and Joel Hodgson return. Apart from the centres, this is a set of backs with a lot of pace in it. A further few players could make debuts off the bench.
Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Alex Crockett, 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Franck Montanella, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Glen Young, 6 Ben Morris, 7 Dan Temm, 8 Chris York (c) .
Replacements: 16 David Nelson, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Grant Shiells, 19 Will Witty, 20 Ollie Hodgson, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Penny.
Saracens have also selected a less-than full-strength side, with their first team taking on their South African hosts tomorrow.
Saracens: 15. Ben Ransom; 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Nathan Earle; 10 Nils Mordt ©, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Jared Saunders, 3 James Johnston, 4 Hayden Smith, 5 Eoin Sheriff, 6 Nick de Jaeger, 7 Matt Hankin, 8 Jackson Wray.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Tom Jubb, 20 Maro Itoje, 21 Duncan Taylor, 22 Sam Stanley, 23 Charlie Kingsman.
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