With the start of the 2014/15 Aviva Premiership, Rhiannon Chandler-Day is back with her weekly Premiership match report.
This week she was at Twickenham for the London Double Header:
Saracens v Wasps
Wasps looked revitalised and certain to spice up their Saturday at the London Double Header against the Saracens. Taking centre stage at Twickenham, both sides ran out to an eagerly awaiting 66,164 spectators, poised and prepared for the showdown ahead.
It looked like the Wasps were set to steal the limelight as they edged one point ahead with a couple of minutes to go. But they fell at the final hurdle, giving way to Man of the Match David Strettle, who breezed over the line to bag his hat-trick, leaving the Wasps red-faced, rueing, and hitting the self-destruct button for the third consecutive year!
â€œIf you look at our first forty, it just wasn’t good enough. We had pretty much most of the territory, certainly all the possession…but we failed to really cause them lots of problems first half…which is the story of last season really.â€Â said Dai Young
All conservative play was put to bed early on, with the Sarries back to their old tricks. A fantastic flurry of handling skills and a clinically executed loop from Charlie Hodgson put Chris Ashton in good stead to score, only six minutes into the game.
I started to fear the worst; were the Wasps in for the same thumping Gloucester had been on the receiving end of the night before?
Not exactly. When the Wasps did manage to gain possession, they looked vicious on the attack, especially Elliot Daly who triumphantly twirled and twisted his way out of tackles and down the pitch to the roar of the crowd. But it only needed an ounce of error when the Wasps were caught off-guard and flat on the attack, to enable an interception, fuelling David Strettle’s try.
Saracens backed the Wasps into a corner on numerous occasions in the scrum, preventing them from gaining any significant ground on the attack in the first-half.
HT Saracens 20 â€“ London Wasps 9
But it didn’t take long for the Wasps to sting in the second. They needed to carve it up and they did.
A beautiful break from Joe Simpson, whose line speed was phenomenal, put the ball in the capable hands of Nathan Hughes for Wasps’ first try. The Sarries were subsequently penalised at the scrum for pre-engaging and I suspect this was the turning point that enabled the Wasps to take charge and attempt to turn the game around.
With bullish ball carries in pod formation from both Ashley Johnson and James Haskell and individual excellence from Nathan Hughes, it opened up the floor to enable Christian Wade to score not once but twice!
With the Wasps ahead with 20 minutes to play, Mark McCall put the onus on Owen Farrell to make his mark and the Saracens responded. Yet again it was the dominant David Strettle who sneaked around the corner of the breakdown to score his second try of the game.
With four minutes to go and with a scrum awarded to the Wasps, all I could hear the captain James Haskell saying on the ref link was;Â â€œA big scrum nowâ€Â and really that’s all his boys needed to do to win the game – if they’d kept possession – But they didn’t!
And the Saracens demonstrated their physical ability when it really mattered, as Strettle proved, scoring his hat-trick when the Wasps were down and out. Farrell converted on the final whistle and even as a spectator, I felt like I’d been through two rounds with Mike Tyson watching the Wasps.
Wasps were their own worst enemy in parts as Dai Young quite rightly said after the match;
â€œThe disappointing factor is then with three minutes to go, we had it in our hands to win the game…â€
Full Time: Saracens 34 â€“ 28 London Wasps
Hat’s off to the Wasps. For 35 minutes of the second half they delivered – and did some damage – but their inability to wake up and smell the coffee in the first half was dismayingly detrimental to the overall result.
As for the Saracens, we know how clinical they are and how they use their quick phases of play and off-loads to attack the game line at speed. But if Wasps came this close … who knows who’ll come even closer?
Harlequins v London Irish
A winâ€™s a win, but thereâ€™s no surprise Quinsâ€™ Director of Rugby Conor Oâ€™Shea was unhappy with his sideâ€™s spluttering start to the season. They were ill-disciplined and out of sorts and not even their England players were able to make much of a mark.
â€œOur second half wasn’t good enough..we know that.â€Â said Conor O’Shea.
New captain Joe Marler was one of two Quinsâ€™ players to be yellow-carded and they failed to get any points on the board at all in the second half.
Just as well then, that theyâ€™d started brightly and were 10-0 up inside eight minutes. The surprisingly inconsistent Nick Evans first kicked a penalty and then good attacking play from a line-out saw the ball spun along the line at speed for Ugo Monye to go over for a try. Evansâ€™ conversion then went over off a post.
Irish reduced the gap with a penalty from Shane Geraghty, but when his team-mate Eamonn Sheridan was yellow carded, Evans kicked theÂ ensuingÂ penalty to make itÂ 13 â€“ 3. Gerahty put another penalty over from 38 metres to keep Irish in touch, but the Quinsâ€™ response was instant and devastating. Ollie Lindsay-Hague slipped a tackle and sped down the touchline unopposed to score under the posts. Evans converted to make it 20 â€“ 6 and only the crossbar prevented Geraghty reducing the deficit from a 55-metre penalty on the stroke of half-time.
HT Harlequins 20 – London Irish 6Â
Harlequins self-imposed problems began within a minute off the restart. First, new captain Joe Marler was yellow-carded for a tip-tackle and Geraghty kicked the resulting penalty to make it 20 â€“ 9. Then Kyle Sinckler was binned for a high tackle and for at least a minute Quins were down to 13 men.
More ill-discipline resulted in two more Geraghty penalties, which he confidently kicked over to make it 20 â€“ 15 and with a quarter of an hour remaining, Irish hopes were rising, but they werenâ€™t able to secure the territory to get any closer.
Nick Evansâ€™ fourth penalty miss of the afternoon – from the 22-metre line â€“ summed up a sorry second half for Quins and now the scrutiny will begin to work out why they were misfiring.
Full Time: Harlequins 20 â€“ 15 London Irish
Nick Easter summed it up;
â€œWe started off well and played the rugby in the right areas, but we allowed them to get to us and poor indiscipline let them back in it. In the end we were hanging on by the finger nails. Better sides will put us away!â€
So when are we going to have the pleasure of seeing the patient, composed and clever side of last season?
Conor O’Shea elaborated;
â€œIt’s the start of a marathon, it’s game one in…we’ll take a huge amount in terms of how we’re preparing, game one of 22 and let’s get ready for the roller-coaster.â€
Well in a match where the penalty count for Harlequins was unacceptably high and Irish managed to show superiority in the scrum along with Harlequins losing all shape and at times, sense of discipline â€“ no player actually stood out for me â€“ so I hope I am wrong, but maybe it wonâ€™t be any time soon.
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk