SARRIES, IN CHARGE FOR 2 MINS, DO JUST ENOUGH
April 7 2019
After this game, I was once again reminded of the infamous Quins game on Boxing Day at Vicarage Road, when not one person, player, official or supporter, wanted to be there. This game was less poor quality, and as some have suggested, this was not even the worst performance from Sarries this season. Nonetheless, the TV producers will be glad that they turned their attention elsewhere, and we should be glad that the paying viewer was not asked to waste an afternoon of his life watching this dreary spectacle.
With that out of the way, what actually happened?
Falcons travelled knowing that both their rivals for relegation, now probably Worcester Warriors and Leicester Tigers might conceivably pull off wins and cut Falcons adrift with a second foot moving closer to the trap-door. As a consequence, and for the first 20 minutes, they played all the rugby, with 80% possession, and constantly had Sarries on defensive duties. Twice in this opening period, Owen Farrell kicked ambitiously for the line, and twice the line-out was called back to the line from which the kick had been taken. Falcons had both touchlines well-covered, and efforts to get in behind that cover failed. It seemed to me that the centre-field was left empty and that a couple of high kicks straight down the centre might force some spreading of the defences, but Owen’s first attempt at this was too low, and consequently rolled aimlessly over the dead ball line. We know that we have a fully-functioning line-out, mostly, but the players would prefer that they attack the opposition line-out forty metres upfield, where less ambitious kicks might have made ground. It was doubly unfortunate that in Karl Dickson we had a referee who actually wants the ball thrown straight, a skill more evident in the Falcons hookers than displayed by a shaky Tom Woolstencroft.
After 20 minutes the Falcons had the only score, a well-taken distance penalty from Takalua, for me, by a margin, the only player who deserved to be MotM.
After 30 minutes, the first moment of real skill by Sarries led to a touch-down by Sean Maitland, with Owen both setting up the move and then contributing a second time during the run for the line. This was scarcely deserved on the run of play, but Sarries are always able to pull a try, out of the hat, against the grain. This might have been the tonic needed to pull this patient of a game out of his hospital bed, but a quick response, another penalty by Takalua, gave the Falcons the up-beat feeling of a half-time lead 5-6.
The second half was marginally less awful. Max Malins, who was for me Sarries’ best player on the day, went away for a second try, but neither side was able to string together more than three, occasionally four phases. Takalua took his chances each time they were offered, and took his penalty tally to four from four. Various attempts, mostly failing for lack of precision, gave Sarries chances with attacking line-outs on the five metres line, and it was inevitable that when a score did come from one, it cam through replacement Nick Tompkins, taking the Brad role as extra bulk in the push for the line.
Falcons were visibly tiring after 60 minutes. Their work ethic, hardly surprising with Deano as DoR, remained intact, but the constant unsuccessful battering at the Sarries defensive line was taking its toll. Takalua and Toby Flood had tried mixing the game with some fairly astute kicking from hand, but the Sarries back three pendulum was about the only part of their game that was working well, and Sean and Max in particular were usually able to return, running or kicking, with some profit.
The final play of the game remains contentious, with much debate about whether a foot in touch should or should not have seen a last gasp try by Alex Lozowski given or chalked off. Nice for Sarries to get a fifth point, heart-breaking for Falcons to go home with nothing for their endeavours. The officials debated for ages, far too long, and the crowd was restless. I personally thought the TV footage was so inconclusive that either way, the decision would be seen as wrong by some.
So why did Sarries manage to play so poorly yet take the full hand of points on offer? For me the answer lay in line speed. In defence, Sarries were able to take full advantage of Karl Dickson’s liberal interpretation of the moment when the defence can rush, and Falcons were unable ever to get three dangerous runners, Sinoti Sinoti, Vereniki Goneva and Josh Matavesi into a position to take the ball moving. Thus, the three of them tended to be large and static targets, easy to pick off by the Sarries back row, with Schalk Burger in particular getting through a great many successful tackles. When, tiring, the same Falcons backs were unable to defend as effectively as needed, the pacey Sarries backs could take advantage.
Karl Dickson had a difficult game. Many might think he was too evident, too free with his whistle. For me that was the fault of the players, error-prone and unable to achieve any fluidity.
For some reason Michael Rhodes was named MotM by the Sarries coaching staff. For me, he was busy but no more. The clear favourite was Max Malins, busy, effective and suggesting that he may be another 10 who turns out to be a better 15.
On a side-note, I watched part of the Tigers v Chiefs game later in the day. The though came to me that Tigers’ two best players on the day were Vereniki Goneva and Logovi’I Mulipola. Just a pity for Tigers that they both ply their trade at Falcons nowadays.
All in all, plenty for the Monday morning analysis to consider. Sarries famously raise their game for the big occasions, and this game proved that they have a level from which they can deliver that raised offering. Perhaps as spectators we have come to rely on the raised game levels, forgetting that we see the best reserved for the big stage, and seem somehow to manage the ‘lesser’ stage rather than scintillate on it.
Maitland, Malins, Tompkins, Lozowski Cons: Farrell 3
Malins; Maitland, Lozowski, Tompkins, Lewington; Farrell (capt), Spencer; Barrington, Woolstencroft, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Burger, Earl.
Tolofua, Adams-Hale, Lamositele, Isiekwe, Clark, Whiteley, Morris, Gallagher.
Tait; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood (capt), Takulua; Mulipola, McGuigan, Ah You, Olmstead, Green, Graham, Hardie, Chick.
Cooper, Lockwood, Wilson, Robinson, Witty, Stuart, Connon, Dunbar.
I think games like this just highlight the contribution the likes of Alex Goode and Jamie George bring to the game
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2019:04:18:09:47:32 by Darraghgirl.
I sometimes think we get carried away with the strength and depth of our squad. In my view we are blessed with an outstanding XV and a great bunch who, individually, can step in for the odd absentee without any significant decline in our performance. But that's very different from having a large number missing as was the case on Saturday - just 6 of the XV playing, 11 of the XXIII. And it showed against a rested Falcons team who lacked confidence and deserved more.
Points win matches: tries win hearts and minds.
£721.05 (*) donated to the Saracens Foundation due to visits to the Sarries frontpage [www.rugbynetwork.net]
Please read and submit articles for publication. (*) As at October 31, 2018.