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SALING INTO THE WIND
This was the first home Premiership game since our inevitable relegation was confirmed and the weather forecast was awful with the arrival of Storm Dennis so I did wonder what sort of attendance and what sort of atmosphere we would find at Allianz Park. Well it was very wet and windy but there was a surprisingly good crowd who, despite the elements, were in good voice. Another pleasant surprise was the appearance of Wayne Barnes with the whistle – a rare guest to Barnet and so much the better because of that. In fact it was a pretty strong refereeing team all round with 2 other referees, Tom Foley & Hamish Smales, running the lines. Advance apologies for any reporting inaccuracies – I was having to make notes under a very wet groundsheet which was keeping my legs dry but the pages got increasingly soggy and illegible as the game went on.
LIFE AFTER DEATH?
The Afterlife begins on Sunday. AD. After Demotion. Saracens now play the first of 14 dead rubbers away at Quins. Welcome to the official trial of “ring-fencing the Premiership”. Who’d be Mark McCall. How on earth do you pick a team for this? How do you motivate the players? Can we really expect these guys to put their bodies and careers on the line for something which doesn’t matter? At least not to Saracens. We could win this 100-0 and it would count for nothing.
SARRIES EDGE A RACING REVIVAL
As I drove to the game, avoiding major road-works, I drove past Richmond Park. I first saw Sarries play there against London Scottish, I think in 1998. We spectators stood on the touchline, separated from the pitch by a rope barrier that gave the touch-judges barely sufficient space in which to run the line. Kyran Bracken was why we were there; he had been a year ahead of my son at school. The opportunity to see Michael Lynagh, Tim Horan and Francois Pienaar also in the same team, was not to be missed. Sarries lost, 24-7, but on that day my support for Sarries was ignited.
KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE
It’s funny how fate has a habit of throwing teams together – teams that then seem almost inextricably linked in each other’s history. In a way that is true of racing 92 and Saracens.
THE THIN RED LINE
I could not help comparing the match to the trip to Limerick. Both fairly big Celtic towns with evidence all around of hard times, but with a town centre providing a modicum of new development. Both providing slate grey skies with the promise of wind and rain. The difference was in the home supporters; Munster up for it and the talk in the town all about the upcoming game, Swansea seemingly indifferent to it, more interested with taking cash off the visitors from London. We walked to the stadium, a mistake as it was raining and not even any decent pubs to make a detour in. The Ospreys supporters bar was welcoming and warm and at last there was talk of the game. The thought was that we hadn’t quite brought a strong enough side. Even if that side had got a losing bonus point at Munster and Ospreys were frankly rubbish, Saracens really needed a bonus point win.The weather looked grim; plenty of dropped passes seemed to be likely and in fact proved to occur.
CAN SARRIES CLIP OSPREYS' WINGS?
The Premiership takes a backseat for a couple of weeks as the final 2 rounds of European competition take centre stage. Sarries are still very much alive in this competition and as has been said previously by Brad Barritt, if we make the knock-out stage it is all to play for!
TRYING TIME FOR WORCESTER
Today was the first game of a new year, a new decade, a new era – A.N. = After Nigel. The sun shone on this brave new world; for once the Allianz Park breeze was quiet and a sell-out crowd gathered to enjoy the game. A late change saw Sean Maitland drop out with injury to be replaced by Rotimi Segun on the wing. Visitors Worcester Warriors had made 6 changes to their side but were notably without fly-half Duncan Weir who has been a thorn in Saracens’ side in previous encounters between the 2 teams. South African GJ Van Velze made his first start at No.8
NIGEL WRAY, AN APPRECIATION
On Thursday 2nd January, Nigel Wray announced he was standing down as Chairman of Saracens. He said in his statement: “As we enter a new year, a new decade, it is time for the Club to make a fresh start. I am not getting any younger and feel this is the right moment for me to stand down as Chairman and just enjoy being a fan of this incredible rugby club. I will always be committed to the wonderful Saracens family. The Wray family will continue to provide the required financial support to the Club, and I will remain actively engaged in the work of the Saracens Sport Foundation and Saracens High School, as part of the Club’s ongoing commitment to our community in north London.”
Chiefs do their thing - sarries don't
This was a game with more sub-plots than a struggling TV soap opera desperate to earn Christmas ratings. Every journalist had their own strap-line, of which my favourite was to bill the game as ‘Sinned Against v Sinners’.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The completely unavoidable Salary shenanigans have added a layer of spite to this fixture. On one side, the understandable reaction of what might have been could not help but sour the fine set of silver medals amassed, making a clear panto villain in the uninvited Nigel Wray. And on the other, Tony Rowes inability to accept the rules he was ever so keen to sign up to just a few years ago, and Rob Baxters Sarries induced blind spot provide a rather simple rebuttal.