Sarries put the hex on Saints
March 7 2019
In olden times, the hex was a six-sided charm erected over the doorway at home to ward off the possible entry of malign spirits. In modern times, the hex is a six-try run-out at Allianz Park to remind Saints that their missionary endeavours can be warded off as well.
If Saints wanted a chance to redress the miserable balance of recent encounters, P8 L8, today was the day to throw everything into the chance. Both sides are missing a few key players to injury, but Saints are greatly less troubled by the demands of the 6 Nations programme. However, the day’s events began ill for Saints, with James Grayson, selected to start at 10, having to withdraw from the warm-up. This upset forced a big re-shuffle, with George Furbank moved from 15 to 10, Ahsee Tuala dropping to the 15 position and the experienced Tom Collins coming up from the bench.
Saracens put out a strong side, despite the absence of four away with England, one with Wales and a further pair of B&I Lions on the injured list. Sean Maitland was back at his day-job, and paired with David Strettle on the wings, Max Malins at 15, whilst Alex Goode stood up at 10 again.
The wind, as is so often the case, was set to influence the game, and as so often, it seemed that Sarries won the toss and elected to give the advantage to Saints in the first period. Actually, the wind was horrible, sometimes here, sometimes there, but always in evidence.
The first moment was not good. The wind just took the ball at the last, leaving Calum Clark high and dry, with a fumble behind him. Scrum to Saints, a bit of backwards and forwards, but here we see the root of all Saints problems: they just could not take advantage of the six or seven serious playing visits into Sarries 22. This ends with a Sarries scrum, a break off the base and a fast, direct break by Jackson Wray that split the Saints defence, (a polite way of saying that they froze), before some slick work, with Will Skelton, who is to have his best game in a Sarries shirt, taking part. The end result is a try for Sean Maitland, not the easiest that he will ever score. Late arrivals are still finding their seats and the show is already on the road.
Almost immediately, Saints reply with a penalty taken by Rory Hutchinson, but Saints have still scarcely left their team bus, and within minutes the centres have failed to match up defensively, leaving Nick Tompkins a clear run in for the second try. 12-3.
The Saints have visited the Sarries 22 on four occasions now, and on each they have nothing to show for their visit. Even their penalty is for an offence outside the red zone. However, Sarries are in no mood for such waste, and the next few minutes are dreadful for the Saints supporter sitting behind my right ear. Not only has another break into Saints’ 22 yielded a try, this time with Ben Spencer setting up a break ended by David Strettle in the right-hand corner. Mr Saint behind me has gone very quiet now, and with reason. Saints are on a team warning for deliberate infringements in their red zone. Fraser Dingwall has to go off injured, and there’s a welcome, but all too rare sight as Luther Burrell comes on to replace him. Aware or not of the team warning, he is adjudged off-side in almost his first play, in front of the posts. He is back on the benches within three minutes of coming on. Sarries take a scrum, leaving Saints short-handed in the backs. Slick work, a long loop from Alex, and Sean is over for his second, for sure the easiest try he will ever have scored. Fourth try, bonus point in 29 minutes. There is still time for a further infliction of misery, with several line-out, penalty, line-out, penalty repetitions before Tom Woolstencroft surfaced from the melée to claim the driven try.
So, at half-time, at 29-3 Sarries are looking like yet another 50-pointer over Saints.
With the erratic wind in the second half, we might have expected a run-away, but in the event, we saw little evidence of that happening. Admittedly, the next sequence belongs to Sarries. It begins with a penalty under the posts, smart tap by Ben and a low, scything, arms-free tackle by Alex Mitchell. Given that these missile attacks can be career-endingly dangerous for tackler or tackled, the referee takes little time consulting the TMO before awarding a penalty try and a breather for the hapless Mitchell.
At 36-3, this is looking dreadful for Saints. They have failed again and again to make anything of the territorial opportunities, especially when several have come from their good work at the restart, with which they have plenty of practice today. At some stage now, the momentum switches very clearly. Perhaps Sarries feel that the job is done, and a partial switch-off occurs, perhaps made obvious when Brad goes off for a rare substitution, leaving the side a bit shorn of traditional leaders. Perhaps Saints feel that they might as well throw caution to the winds and start playing a bit of rugby. Whatever has sparked it, for the last 20 minutes, Saints play like a side who can play rugby at this level. The mind-set brings two tries, both converted, but the bald truth is that Sarries, missing half their first team, are simply beyond the reach of this Saints outfit.
Will Skelton has been immense again today, and to my mind he has put in his best shift in a Sarries shirt. He is not an 80 minute player, and who would be, having to put a frame of his proportions through the workload that he can take on these day? However, as a carrier, defensive line-man and occasional off-load wizard he caused havoc in the Saints defence today, with a very fair amount of serious defending as well. Although he was deservedly MotM, Jackson Wray cannot have been far adrift of the accolade. Alex was in complete control for much of the game. We are very fortunate to have him with us, a player who would have graced the 10 shirt of any club in England, but who accepts the team need and plays ‘out of position’ week in and out for the 200 plus times that he has been selected at 15.
This was no classic game of rugby. It needs two evenly matched sides to deliver that, and not one person can honestly claim that Saints met that criterion. However, at least Mr. Saint had something to cheer about at the end.
Elsewhere this weekend, Gloucester’s stumble in a classic at Ashton Gate means that Wasps, who blew an outside chance of catching them, remain five points adrift of the play-offs. Harlequins just edged Bath and thus took a firmer grip on third place in the table. However, with five sides separated by just three points, 5th to 9th, few DoR will be relaxing for now, with places at the top European table still in the mix. Who would ever have expected Wasps, Bath, Saints and Tigers all to face the unpalatable truth of second-tier Europe next season?
Sarries will face sterner challenges, indeed many are coming up very soon. However, tonight, we should salute a very good band of brothers, doing all that could be asked of them.
Luke Pearce held the whistle generally well, mainly better than that encomium suggests. Of course, by comparison, a quick look around the various forum threads proves that every referee this week had a terrible game, and indeed Mr Pearce was only less-worse than the others. However, the same quick look round also proves that not one referee understands the off-side, ruck or maul laws, and not one can see a forward pass under any circumstances. For myself, referees continue to do an incredibly complex job, demanding literally hundreds of split-second decisions every game. If they get a few wrong, who wouldn’t under similar conditions?
Saracens: Malins; Strettle, Tompkins, Barritt (capt), Maitland; Goode, Spencer; Barrington, Woolstencroft, Judge, Skelton, Isiekwe, Clark, Earl, Wray.
Replacements: Gray, Lamositele, Koch, Kpoku, Burger, Wigglesworth, Lozowski, Gallagher.
Northampton Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Collins; Furbank, Mitchell; Van Wyk, Fish, Hill, Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, Ludlam (capt), Brüssow.
Replacements: Marshall, Waller, Franks, Moon, Wood, Reinach, Burrell, Kellaway.
Sin-bin: Burrell (27), Mitchell (51).
Saracens (29) 36.
Tries Maitland 2, Tompkins, Strettle, Woolstencroft, penalty. Cons: Spencer 2
Northampton (3) 17. Tries: Marshall, Ludlam Cons: Hutchinson 2 Pen: Hutchinson
Referee, Luke Pearce
The delay in publishing has arisen as we are short of people to publish, when DarraghGirl is away. So, if anyone would like to volunteer to join the ranks of publishers, you would be most welcome. Only a rudimentary knowledge of desktop applications is needed to publish articles; whereas some familiarity of html is needed to take on the role of maintaining the headers etc. The latter is NOT needed, at the moment, as we only need an extra body to do the article publishing; that having been said we wouldn't turn away someone with html experience!
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2019:03:18:12:26:23 by Darraghgirl.
Mitchell made a similar "no arms" tackle on Earl following his break from the base leading to our first try. Danger to both himself (head in front of Earl's knees) and his opponent. For everyone's sake I hope he abandons this technique before suffering/causing serious injury.
As so often at AP I was grateful for the extra layer I made myself wear - the latter stages particularly seemed to include a biting wind.