OUR FAVOURITE GAMES # 11 SCHALK BRITS DAY 5.5.18
April 11 2020
The final home game of the season was played out in glorious sunshine - an entirely appropriate backdrop as Mr Sunshine himself, Schalk Brits, took his bow for the final time in a regular season game. His contribution to Saracens, and the Premiership in general, can not be overstated. If the definition of ‘great’ is based upon the attribute to change how your relevant position is played, then Sculla is a genuine great. He has re-defined the role of hooker and, quite possibly, the perception of rugby as a whole. At a time when professional sport has increasingly become about the individual, even in rugby, here is a man who has undoubtedly given more than he has received!
Having been fortunate enough to attend an evening with Sculla during the week, I still don’t think he fully understands just how much pleasure he’s brought to rugby supporters of all teams throughout the country. At every away ground I’ve attended this season, opposition supporters have bemoaned his retirement, highlighting what an outstanding individual he is - and that’s even before we start to actually talk about his rugby ability!
Saturday saw Sculla at his audacious best; outrageous off-loads, line-breaks, ferocious tackles, turnovers won. It really was a stark reminder of just how good a rugby player he is - as if we needed reminding - and all done with that beaming smile!
Despite the best efforts of Gloucester, this was always going to be ‘Schalk Brits ‘ day - a celebration of the great man. Gloucester actually claimed the first score after barely 1 minute. Reflecting the way Glocs like to play, they ran from deep in their own half and were able to create sufficient space and numerical advantage on the right wing following some slick interplay for winger Tom Seabrook to score in the right corner. It also cost Saracens the services of the other Schalk (Burger), who appeared to strain a hamstring making a desperate tackle in midfield. Billy ‘36’ Twelvetrees was unable to land a difficult conversion as Ben Earl came on to replace the unfortunate Burger.
In a performance similar to that against London Irish the previous week, Saracens interspersed moments of inspiration with those of inaccuracy. However, on 10 minutes they created space on the left for Goode to put Maitland into the corner. Farrell added the difficult conversion and Saracens had the lead. It was short lived though as Glocs again attacked from deep and a surging run down the left wing from Jason Woodward allowed David Halaifonua to run unopposed behind the posts. No mistake from ‘36’ this time and Glocs had the lead at 7-12. I’m not sure many of the 10,000(?) inside Allianz Park would have envisaged that it would be the last points of the afternoon for the visitors. The next 65 minutes belonged entirely to Saracens.
They claimed their second try of the afternoon just a couple of minutes later as Liam Williams claimed a fine finish in the right corner. Farrell’s conversion struck the post and it was all square at 12-12. They thought they’d scored again a few minutes later but Rhodes (quite correctly) was adjudged to have impeded a would be Gloucester tackler as the outstanding Goode made a clean line-break. Saracens pressure eventually led to a penalty, converted by Farrell and their domination was confirmed on the stroke of half-time as a searing break from Lozowski, on for the injured Bosch, led to Farrell scoring under the posts. His successful conversion meant that Sarries led 22-12 as the teams trotted off for a cooling drink and some shade. The first 40 minutes had followed pretty much the same patterns of the previous three games, with one notable exception - only one penalty conceded! Discipline is going to be crucial as we go into the play-offs.
The second period started as the first ended - Saracens totally dominant. Figallo barged his way over for the bonus point try in the first minute of the half, Farrell converting. On their next attack, Sarries were awarded a penalty in midfield, 35 metres out. The crowd were baying for Brits to take the shot at goal, he strode forward purposefully and was sent packing by Itoje, only for Farrell’s effort to strike the upright and bounce to safety. This was quickly followed by Maro forcing his way over for another try although Farrell missed the conversion.
Moments later, they were awarded another penalty in a similar position to the previous one; this time Brits got his hands on the ball and, given encouragement from the crowd, took a quick tap and hurtled forward. I think Glocs must have been somewhat surprised by this, although I don’t know why, but it resulted in Wyles (on for the injured Williams) scoring in the right corner. No mistake from Farrell this time as Saracens continued to build a hefty lead. To be honest, the second half was entirely one-way; a fellow supporter remarked that if it were a boxing match they would have stopped it at this point. But it’s not boxing, it’s rugby, and the sight of Koch, George and Mako replacing the front row must have been demoralising for an already well beaten team. Sculla took his standing ovation with the grace that appears unique to him; smiles and waves to every corner, I’m convinced that if time allowed, he’d have gone round and shaken the hand of every spectator in the ground.
There then followed an interesting period of replacements for Saracens as Ben Spencer came on for Farrell and the returning Will Skelton replaced Maitland!! Now, that’s a surprise in itself, but the fact that Big Will had been doing the corporate bit until moments before kick off and didn’t even have a gum shield available made it even more bizarre. This left Saracens with Spencer and Ben Earl playing on the wings! Skelton’s introduction came during a period of three 5m line outs and several 5m scrums for Saracens. This is the one area that must be causing the coaches some sleepless nights; as with the game in Reading the previous week, they seem incapable of creating a scoring threat from set-piece close to the opposite line – a stark contrast to Exeter! They were eventually awarded a penalty try by referee Maxwell-Keys but I was left with the distinct feeling that Exeter would have scored 6 tries during a period in which we managed one. Now, I know as with Irish, the opposition conceded several penalties (Jeremy Thrush being sent to the sin bin on this occasion) but it’s an area in which Saracens must be more clinical if they are to regain the Premiership trophy. I have no doubt that Billy makes a huge difference in such situations, simply because his presence makes defenders react differently. Jackson Wray, excellent again today, just doesn’t offer the same physical threat that Billy does - I’m not sure any one in world rugby does to be honest.
Anyway, the final 10 minutes belonged to Ben Spencer. He scored and converted two tries; ably assisted by Goode for the first and a rampaging Jamie George for the second. A final score of 62-12 seemed a bit harsh on a hard working Glocs side but was probably a reflection of the total domination by Saracens. Ultimately, today was a stepping stone towards bigger games for both teams. Gloucester face Cardiff Blues in the final of the European Challenge Cup in Bilbao on Friday night; all the very best to them and I hope they are able to regain that title. Saracens face Wasps in the premiership semi-final; despite the number of tries scored in recent weeks, they will need to be more clinical if they are to progress. Wasps may blow hot and cold but they undoubtedly have the ability to beat Saracens, even at Allianz Park. Man of the Match was awarded to Wray but I’m pretty sure that if it’d been a crowd vote, Brits would have won by a country mile. I know I’m not the only one who is really going to miss his effervescent personality and infectious playing style. Hopefully he has two more games left and there would be no more fitting tribute than for him to be skipping round Twickenham with the Premiership trophy in three weeks time. (Wasps, Exeter/Newcastle may have a different view!)
Footnote - Saracens have not conceded a single point in the second half of the last four games. During those games, they have outscored the opposition 217-45, scoring 31 tries in the process - as the song goes, “boring, boring, Sarries.....”
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13, Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth; 1 Richard Barrington, 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Juan Figallo, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 6 Michael Rhodes, 7 Schalk Burger, 8 Jackson Wray.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Chris Wyles.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Seabrook, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Andy Symons, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Billy Twelvetrees, 9 Ben Vellacott; 1 Paddy McAllister, 2 Motu Matu’u, 3 Fraser Balmain, 4 Tom Savage, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 8 Freddie Clarke
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Ben Morgan, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Tom Hudson
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2020:04:19:19:24:23 by Darraghgirl.