BY GEORGE WE DID IT!
December 16 2018
Mindful of our last infamous trip to Cardiff, we leave before dawn (which to be fair is not exactly crack o’ sparras at this time of year) and make Bristol Parkway in plenty of time to catch the fast train to Cardiff. It seems we are not alone in our planning – there are many Sarries’ fans on the platform and even more on the train and we reach the Welsh capital in time for elevenses.
The forecast is not wrong. Cardiff is very cold and wet and we warm up in one of the local hostelries before making our soggy way to The Arms Park. One minor hitch, when a jobsworth won’t allow little DG in because her “print-at-home” ticket barcode is wet and won’t scan. We are sent back to the ticket booth where we are told “Oh dear, I don’t know what we can do about that!” Well we assure her we haven’t come all this way to watch the game in the pub so she sends us to the main ticket office who reissue the ticket but make us walk all the way back in the rain to the other entrance! Ah well.
Still by luck our seats are probably the snuggest in the ground (well apart from hospitality). The Family Stand is like a largish bus-shelter, enclosed on 3 sides and with a low roof and wall which keeps out everything but a North wind (and fortunately it seems to be south-easterly today). We are pleased to be among friends, a number of other Sarries’ fans are also seated nearby. We watch the guys “warm-up” (not an appropriate term for what was going on out there) and are entertained by what appears to be the Blues’ Academy Squad to our right, one of whom makes 4 separate trips to the chippy, returning each time with a pile of ketchup-covered fries. (So I guess they don’t have a nutritionist then?)
The appointed hour arrives. Despite it being early afternoon, it is dark as sin out there and the flood-lights shine brightly, illuminating the rain which has briefly eased. The guys earnt their money today. We are glad Sarries are in red, both festive and bright whereas Blues’ blue/grey attire seems to blend into the general gloom.
The teams appear in a puff of smoke (well it is panto season). Arms Park seems surprisingly subdued – the visitors to Allianz last week made more noise and it is lovely to hear such vocal support from the travelling Sarries fans to our right who are developing a nice repertoire of songs (more later).
The game starts with a lot of aerial stuff, which Sarries win and are rewarded with a kick at goal after Jones blockes Fish. Faz misjudges the kick and the ball is pulled wide. The locals jeer. It will be the last kick he misses today. But it is all Sarries. A penalty from Mr Garces goes into touch and from the lineout a penalty advantage. The move looks to have broken down but Lewingtron retrieves the ball and lobs it up to Maitland. He evades Fish’s tackle but still has work to do out-sprinting 3 Blues’ defenders before sliding in across the wet “turf”. Faz kicks a beautiful touchline conversion and with 10 minutes on the clock, Sarries are up and running. More pressure from the restart. A penalty advantage at the scrum but Lewington’s kick ahead just beats everyone and Dan Fish takes a heavy knock against the hoardings. Faz eschews the kick and puts the ball in the corner. Blues defend the maul but offend again during a spirited defence. Playing advantage, Faz’s cross-kick is just too strong for Lewington. The kick is dead in front and Faz takes the points 0-10. Am I alone in being concerned that we really aren’t really making the most of these opportunities?
My concern is soon justified. Cardiff opt for a very flat restart which is not held and Blues win the penalty and a 5m line-out. This is their first venture into the Sarries’ 22 and they seem determined to make the most of it. Sarries stop the rolling maul and the defence holds but stray offside for a penalty in front of the posts. Just as we are feeling relieved that we have got away with 3 points, both sides pack down for a scrum. Blues execute what was clearly a training-field move. With the forwards tied in, the ball is picked up by Navidi who finds Rey Lee-Lo and he brushes Brad aside and scores in the corner. Anscombe adds the extras and the score is 7-10.
Good work from Tompkins then Kruis wins another penalty and again Faz goes for touch. Once more, after a promising start, Sarries are careless with possession, and a rejuvenated Blues force a knock on and clear from the scrum. Back comes the red wave. Another penalty for Scully’s tackle of Lewington in the air and once again Sarries go for the corner. Yet another penalty for an off-the-ball tackle on Jamie George by Nick Williams (surely Mr Garces must be thinking of a card by now) and Owen dinks the ball into the corner but this time Fish just beats Goodey to the ball and averts the danger. Faz finally decides to take the points but 7-13 seems scant reward for all the Sarries’ possession whereas Blues have ventured just once into the opposition’ red zone and come away with maximum points. Our fears are soon justified. Anscombe plonks a penalty right on the 5m line with no angle. Sarries defend and clear. A speculative kick from Anscombe is lobbed over the top and collected by Smith on half way and in an episode strangely reminiscent of last week, he finds his full back (this time Dan Fish) who runs unopposed to the try-line and scores. Anscombe converts and Blues end the half ahead, 14-13. For the first time we hear the Welsh voices sing. As we enjoy a half-time mince pie there is a strange sense of deja-vu. How come the Welsh are in front? We had so much possession, so many opportunities but the scoreboard doesn’t lie, Blues had 2 chances and took them both. We can only hope for another second half revival like last week. If only we had known that Blues would not trouble the scorers again today!
There is a bit of entertainment when one of the half-time Santas splits his trousers then almost reluctantly the players re-emerge to what at 2.00 is near darkness and the prospect of more heavy rain. Oh the temptation to linger in the changing room.
Things don’t improve immediately. Last week’s hero, Ollie Robinson has replaced Samu Manoa who it seems was carrying an injury. Sarries mess up another lineout but Mr Garces rescues them with a penalty on half way. Undeterred the ball goes back in the corner but once again Blues disrupt the drive and win the penalty. Cardiff are looking more and more confident, Anscombe turns the screw with a penalty into the Sarries’ 22 but for once Sarries force a turn over. Sarries have another unsuccessful go at trying to get something from the lineout before Faz cuts his losses and goes for the posts and at last Sarries retake the lead at 14-16.
Wiggy and Calum Clark replace Spencer and Burger. Presumably McCall feels Wiggy’s renowned game management might make the difference. There is a lovely passage of play where Faz auditions for Strictly. Blues jump on a Wiggy knock-on and Smith’s kick ahead finds Faz deep in his own 22. He sidesteps 2 Blues’ defenders, shapes to off-load then flips an outrageous ball behind him to a rather surprised, but fortunately watchful Alex Goode who clears up field into what is now torrential rain.
Blues have the bit between their teeth and pummel the Sarries 22. Goodey fields a kick from Smith but is forced into touch. Blues have free ball from the line out but Goodey just beats Scully to the cross-kick. Blues turn down the kick that would have given them the lead and go for the line out. Big Will incurs the wrath of Mr Garces with a professional foul and is off to the bin. One feels this is a huge moment for Sarries. Figallo replaces Koch. Predictably Blues go for a 5m lineout but somehow the Sarries’ defensive wall holds and incredibly George forces a turnover. But Sarries are not out of trouble yet. They have a scrum on their 5m line. Brad joins the forwards and amazingly the make-shift pack win the penalty. Mr Garces’ decision is not popular with the locals but there is much back-slapping among Sarries and somehow it seems a turning point. The momentum has gone and Blues never look dangerous again.
Isiekwe replaces Rhodes. There is a collision in the air – Smith is hurt when Maitland seems to catch him off the ground. The crowd howl for Mr Garces to consult the TMO but he had an excellent view and it is just a penalty. Mr Garces confirms the TMO did check the tackle and he is not for turning! The heavens have now well and truly opened and it is very very wet out there. Blues put the ball into touch but Sarries defend well and force a knock-on which allows them to wind down the sin-bin clock with the scrum. When the scrum finally completes, Morgan knocks the clearance into touch and Sarries opt to resume the scrum sequence and wind down the sin-bin clock further. In fact Sarries spend the last 5 of the sin-bin minutes fiddling about with scrums and reset scrums. Barritt is becoming an accomplished flanker! In the end Sarries win a penalty which, to add insult to injury, Owen converts from wide out to extend the lead to 5 points and out of kick range.
Will doesn’t return, instead Dom Day comes on. There are 4 minutes left and Sarries go for the throat. Fantastic work from Earl secures a turn-over then Owen plonks a long penalty right in the corner. Finally the pack get the maul right and bundle over. Mr Garces isn’t sure. The only TV screen is right up the other end so he has to run the length of the pitch to review the grounding. Has Robinson got his hands underneath Jamie George’s ball? Mr Garces studies the screen. He then jogs determinedly back towards the try-line. Pure theatre. It’s a try! Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! Oh no it isn’t! The crowd are oooing and ahhhing. Garces, like the Fairy Godmother, raises his arm and the try stands. Owen kicks a delightful touch-line conversion and now it is 14-26 and Sarries are home and (metaphorically if not meteorically) dry. The Sarries support are in full voice. Firstly “All we need is a team of Jamie George” and then Jingle Bells. They easily out-sing their welsh counterparts all game. Well done guys and gals. And well done Jamie, deservedly Man of the Match, and Mako, both of whom played 77 minutes until the game was done and dusted.
Somewhat surprisingly the game ends when Sarries win a very kickable penalty with 30 seconds on the clock, but instead of going for the points, Owen goes for the corner. Predictably the maul doesn’t work, the ball is knocked on and everyone takes refuge in the dry of the changing rooms.
The trip home is pretty uneventful thank goodness and we are back in Herts in time for a Christmas Party. Victory in Cardiff has almost guaranteed a place in the quarter finals but although this result is a hard fought one, the performance was underwhelming. The weather of course played its part but given the resurgence of Exeter Chiefs on Friday night, Sarries will need to raise their game quite a few notches if the unbeaten record is to carry on to Sandy Park next weekend.
Just a word for Mr Garces – he really is a top guy. Calm, gentle but always in control he allowed the game to flow, made up his own mind and generally got almost everything right. Bien fait Monsieur!
Fish (Morgan), Scully, lee-Lo, Halaholo (Shingler), Smith, Anscombe, Lewis (Blacker); Gill (Thyler), Dacey (Myhill), Andrews (Lewis), Davies, Turnbull, Manoa (Robinson), Navidi, Williams (Earle)
Goode, Maitland, Tompkins (Lozowski), Barritt, Lewington, Farrell, Spencer (Wigglesworth); M Vunipola (Barrington) George (Woolsetncroft), Koch (Figallo), Skelton (Day), Kruis, Rhodes (Isiekwe), Burger (Clark), Earl
Cardiff Blues (14): Tries: Lee-Lo, Fish; Conv: Anscombe (2)
Saracens (26): Tries: Maitland, George; Conv: Farrell (2); Pens: Farrell (4)
Referee: Jerome Garcespqs: qs:
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:12:26:21:43:01 by Darraghgirl.
And echoing what you say about Garces he is always someone I look forward to reffing our European games.
Not just Sarries looking well set for the quarters as clearly the Munster and Edinburgh groups are winners only and the likes of Leinster, Toulouse, Racing, us, Glasgow and Munster (unless Exeter can win over there) looking likely to be in the quarters next April.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:12:18:15:31:30 by Sully08.
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