Saturday 28 February 2015 – 3.00pm
Allianz Park, London
Aviva Premiership #16
Ah, Allianz Park. It’s not the concrete horror of Vicarage Road, fortunately, but I thought it was a funny place on my first visit last season. It seemed very open, maybe due to the running track requiring an expanded space between the pitch and stands, and there wasn’t much atmosphere.
Then again, when a top team beats a lesser side with little difficulty and a 40-3 scoreline, maybe there isn’t much atmosphere. Hopefully it will be different this time, and after we gave Saracens an almighty scare at Christmas, maybe it will be.
Saracens will be smarting after losing at Sale last Saturday in a 14-10 upset that left the Londoners joint-third in the table, just ahead of Exeter who are also on 44 points. Though the scoreline looks tight, it was only a last-minute try by Richard Barrington (converted by Alex Goode) while the Sharks were down to fourteen men that saved a losing bonus point.
Mark McCall’s side are three points behind Bath in second, and one ahead of Sale, Leicester and Wasps, and along with Exeter and these sides appear to be in a six-way fight for three places in the playoffs alongside top side Northampton. Sarries lost the final to the Saints last year and will be desperate to atone for that and repeat their Premiership triumph in 2011.
Away form has been Saracens’ achilles heal this season in both the league and Europe, and only Northampton have won a competitive match at Allianz Park this season, 24-31 back in November. A fortnight ago, the Men in Black survived a Bath fightback to beat Sam Burgess RFC 34-24 in Barnet, and they have also beaten both Clermont Auvergne and Munster (along with Sale) at home in the Champions Cup to line up a potentially-thrilling quarter-final against Racing Metro in Paris.
Four wins in the LV= Cup group stages has booked a semi-final at home to Northampton in a couple of weeks too.
Our previous meeting with the Fez Boyz this season was an absolutely fantastic match that surely nobody has forgotten yet. Just two months go, on 27th December, more than 9,000 packed Kingston Park and almost saw the Falcons sneak a draw, but for Juan Pablo Socino failing to convert Chris Harris’s superb late try. After trailing 6-10 at half-time, a breakaway try by Sinoti Sinoti got our team going and replacement Harris’s brace kept us in touch. Saracens won 23-25, but know they had been in a huge game and their manager McCall was full of praise for our lads.
After a decent record away to Saracens in the amateur era, the Falcons haven’t done so well since the elite game went pro, going back to that 12-10 Watford defeat in front of 19,000 in 1998 as both sides fought for the inaugural Premiership title. I remember our victory at Vicarage Road in December 2007, it was a cracker in which all four of our England international backs were on the scoresheet – Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scored tries while Jonny Wilkinson kicked two conversions and a penalty. Oh did we sing that day!
The 58-15 pounding in March 2010 was not quite as much fun, though unlike most Falcons fans I didn’t pay to watch it as I was up on the commentary scaffholding with Kev ‘n’ Smithy. I see Noah Cato and Andy Saull both scored in that game, along with our perennial thorn Richard Haughton. One thing I do remember from that day though was getting the train home from London Bridge after the game, and sitting opposite me was a woman and her young daughter, maybe five years old. The whole five minutes I was on this train, the little girl was singing that Jessie J song ‘Price Tag’, and I just had to smile.
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
03/11/2013 Allianz Park Premiership L3-40
26/01/2014 Allianz Park Cup L8-41
Juan Pablo Orlandi and Scott Lawson are back in the Falcons’ starting front row in place of Rob Hawkins and Kieran Brookes, while Gonzalo Tiesi starts on the wing, a position I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play before. Will Welch moves down a shirt to allow Andy Saull to start and Mark Wilson wears eight.
15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Gonzalo Tiesi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Kane Thompson, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Calum Green, 20 Chris York, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Alex Tuilagi.
Saracens might be missing a lot of star players due to injury and the Six Nations, but they have still put out one heck of a team. I remember Jamie George having a blinder in this game last season, and Maro Itoje is being hailed as the next big thing for English rugby.
Saracens team: 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Jamie George, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 6 Nick De Jager, 7 Jacques Burger, 8 Jackson Wray, 9 Neil De Kock, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 11 David Strettle, 12 Brad Barritt, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Chris Wyles, 15 Ben Ransom.
Replacements: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Matt Hankin, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Tim Streather.
This will be a tough one but if it is a competitive game then it should also be very entertaining. We have an advantage over most visitors to Allianz Park in that we know about plastic pitches, so no excuse there. Come on Falcons!
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