Another round of the Aviva Premiership brings another round of Rhiannon Chandler-Day’s reports from around the grounds. This week she takes a close look at Wasps v Saints and Harlequins v Saracens.
Harlequins v Saracens
There was no mistaking this latest London derby between the Harlequins and Saracens was flavoursome, feisty and … one sided. The ‘Friday Night Lights’ fixture had that Euro Vision song contest feel to it. An audience of 13,102 looked on with that all too familiar, â€œ…And for the United Kingdom…â€ ring to it â€¦ â€œnil points for Quins.â€ It was painful.
â€œ…Today was one of those days that was an incredible emotional low, we didn’t see it comingâ€ said Conor O’Shea.
â€œI thought we were pretty relentless out there and because of that, we were able to build a lot of pressure on them and obviously get the winâ€
said Mark McCall.
It had only been ten minutes into the game and it felt like I was at the pantomime, ‘Oooh…Aaaah’, especially with Wayne Barnes refereeing. There were no surprises when his decision making didn’t go in favour of the Quins and the supporters unanimously shouted in fury. But on the odd occasion they won the penalty at the breakdown, the Stoop erupted.
This prompted Quins to fire on all cylinders like energised Duracell bunnies, with the likes of Nick Evans and Marland Yarde charging with superb attacking lines. And Quins made courageous decisions … for all of about five minutes, until they were penalised at the break down, yet again, and the boot of Charlie Hodgson put Saracens into a three point lead.
A sparkling surge from the Saracens attack saw a staged offload as the backs ran a concise line, leaving Duncan Taylor to do the rest. Or did he? Magnificent Mike Brown saved the day, bringing him to ground inches from the try line in a superb tackle that dislodged the ball – Hodgson kicked another precise penalty.
Forget the ‘X Factor’, what followed can only be described as the ‘shock factor’. A charge down of a kick from Nick Evans saw his fly-half counterpart, Hodgson, sprinting nearly half the pitch to score under the posts and then convert his own try. Taking candy from a baby – you just couldn’t make it up!
Even when Quins did manage to gain possession, it was almost immediately overturned. The Sarries shipped the ball out wide to Hodgson who kicked it beautifully into unmanned territory and it felt like the Quins hopes had diminished as they were penalised for holding on. Yet again, Hodgson kicked the points.
The only time the Quins were in with a chance of putting points on the board in the first half was when they were awarded a penalty. Evans’ kick went wide and the win over London Irish the week prior looked a distant blur.
Half Time: Harlequins 0-16 Saracens
Evans didnâ€™t reappear in the second half because of a shoulder injury and was replaced by Ben Botica. Three minutes into the second half and Hodgson received his very first yellow card for obstruction. But the penalty kick by Ben Botica bounced off the post and only minutes later Alex Goode slotted another to edge Sarries out of sight. But the second Saracens yellow card was waiting in the wings. This time it was Captain Alistair Hargreaves who was sin binned for an infringement at the breakdown, even though Wayne Barnes had signalled the ball was out. Confused? I was.
But with Saracens down to fourteen feisty men, they still seemed to skillfully stick to form. Charlie Hodgson bagged a duo of penalty kicks in quick succession, one of which resulted from a charge down from Brad Barritt and pandemonium then ensued when Quins’ Rob Buchanan was yellow carded seconds later, with seventeen minutes left on the clock.
Then came another Quinsâ€™ error. The ball was dropped, Sarries kicked forward from the halfway line and Chris Ashton outpaced Marland Yarde to touch down. The boot of Owen Farrell converted.
It was impeccable play wouldn’t you say? Making the most of each opportunity as it arose.
And if that wasn’t enough to tickle the taste buds of rugby fanatics, minutes later, a rolling maul off a five metre lineout saw another Sarries try, this time from Man of the Match, Will Fraser. Farrell converted as the seats at the Stoop began to empty of Quinsâ€™ fans.
It was a real royal thrashing â€“ you can’t sugar coat it!
Full Time: Harlequins 0-39 Saracens
Saracens defined and defended their game beautifully, especially with the boot of Charlie Hodgson who secured 22 points alone. I was left speechless with the floundering handling errors of the Harlequins back line and the sheer inability to recognise that the game plan needed to change â€“ and fast â€“ to counteract the gang tackles and â€˜Fort Knoxâ€™ defence that the Sarries had erected in Quins own backyard.
Looking at the stats, anyone who hadnâ€™t seen the game would probably have assumed that Quins had walked it.
But the clinical commitment in defence and fitness of the Saracens shone in full glory.
The North London side’s physicality as a pack? – It’s brutal.
London Wasps v Northampton Saints
For the first time in five years, Wasps can boast a brilliant stinging of Northampton Saints.
It was a mammoth shift at the office for the home side and one that will be remembered for years to come, by them and their jubilant fans.
â€œI thought for eighty minutes we stood toe-to-toe with the Championsâ€
â€œYou don’t get the opportunity to celebrate after playing Northampton very oftenâ€
said Dai Young, Wasps Director of Rugby.
It was definitely a game of two halves. The first, highlighting the shock absorbing strength of the Wasps defence as they concentrated the Saints pack into the centre of the pitch, as they attempted to play a narrow game. The boot of Stephen Myler kicked the first points of the game but in a tight tense first half, Andy Goode then equalised when Northampton were penalised for being off side.
The defence of the home side remained remarkably resilient, with the power of Captain James Haskell taking his tackle count to another level. But neither side found a faultless line out or found touch. The ball went back and forth like a ping pong ball, it was relentless.
Then an off the ball tackle from Ashley Johnson on Alex Corbisiero in a lineout, resulted in the Northampton prop retaliating and both being sin binned with just over ten minutes to go until half time.
It was frustrating to watch with the score not reflecting the mounting effort – still at three a piece. But you couldn’t deny that Wasps were ferocious in attack and defence. Veteran Andy Goode controlled the game well and Wasps ended the first half looking the more intent to score.
Half Time Wasps 3 – 3 Northampton Saints
Back out and Wasps were tenacious, tormenting the Champions at every given turn. A drop goal attempt by Goode failed but equally Myler missed a penalty and the two sides were still level pegging.
A credible chip from Ken Pisi was chased by George North, who crossed the try line but the offload was ruled marginally forward and no try awarded. However, Myler didn’t hesitate to kick the points to take the lead and his boot subsequently kicked another three points moments later.
But then in the blink of an eye, Wasps scored fourteen points within minutes. An interception from Ashley Johnson off a pass from Luther Burrell to Ken Pisi saw the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young Wasp, put on a sprint to score in the corner and Adams Park were on their feet!
The second try was from a kick and chase from the swift and reliable Tom Varndell in the opposite corner and Ruaridh Jackson cleanly converted both tries. It was sensational to watch. Wasps were buzzing!
Northampton attempted to boulder their way through the Wasps defence but not even Samu Manoa managed it as he peeled off the back of a maul to be brought to the ground by scrum-half, Joe Simpson. Were the Saints going to dissolve like a sugar cube in a cup of tea?
Although the Wasps were caught-off guard enabling Ben Foden to score and Myler to convert, with one minute left on the clock, it was nothing more than the consolation prize of a losing bonus point.
Saints played until the dying moment of the game but it was to no effect against a resilient and resolute Wasps side.
Wasps truly deserved the win and I’m in no doubt they’ll be ones to watch this season as they continue to improve their game plan, as Dai Young quite rightly said;
â€œYou’ve got to walk before you can run and obviously there’s still things to improve on but in two weeks we’ve played against the best two teams probably in the Aviva Premiership… it shows we’re certainly going in the right directionâ€
They certainly are, watch this space!
Full Time Wasps 20-16 Northampton Saints
By Rhiannon Chandler Day
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at:Â rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk