With Saracens' recent form, I think most folks were expecting an easy victory against the visiting Newcastle Falcons. But we all know what comes before a fall, and Jonny Wilkinson & Co pulled off their first victory at Vicarage Road since 2001, and also their first away win in the Premiership in over a year.
As has happened in recent weeks for the Men In Black, the first half was a bit of a disaster. A fortnight ago in Viadana, they managed the comeback-from-the-dead, turning round a 26-3 deficit at half time, into a miraculous 26-34 win by final whistle. The travelling fans were naturally ecstatic. Those of us at home following the game online were left nursing our bitten fingernails!
The biggest casualty of the game was Hooker Matt Cairns [above] who suffered a broken arm during the match, and has since had a metal plate inserted to aid recovery, but he will be out until at least the end of March. The Gaffer is naturally worried about Hooking cover during the Six Nations, as Fabio Ongaro is likely to be called up by Italy for the duration. We all hope Cairnsy has a speedy recouperation!
The Christmas fixture on 22nd December saw Sarrie and his team travel away to Harlequins. Yet again, the first 30-odd minutes were pretty dire from all accounts. I was unable to follow this one online as my broadband connection was broken for 10 days over Christmas! Very annoying. Still, Sarries managed to pull back a 20-27 win.
I think the Christmas holidays must have been relaxing for the guys, since they seemed to come out of the tunnel for the Newcastle game thinking they were easily going to beat the Falcons. Within 3 minutes the defence was caught napping and Matthew Tait beat Brent Russell to cross the line for a try.
[Look Who's Behind You! Jonny Wilkinson is manaced by Lock Chris Jack]
Whilst Jonny's playmaking skills seemed fine, his placekicking left a bit to be desired. He missed at least two kicks at goal, and Saracens' Gordon Ross, starting the first half, wasn't a lot better. Odd, since it wasn't particularly windy, even though the rain appeared for a while.
The Falcons' Scrum seemed to stand up at every opportunity, and I'm surprised referee Sean Davey didn't ping them for it more often. Saracens have been having a good scrum of late, so there's no reason to think just because Carl Hayman was gracing the Newcastle Front Row that things would change dramatically - Kevin Yates left] and Cencus Johnston are pretty good masters of the dark arts themselves!
Another thing that wasn't going too well for Saracens was their lineout. Several were stolen during the game, which doesn't happen often. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised, give the statistics that Newcastle's Lock Mark Sorenson is the top lineout stealer in the Premiership, and is 3rd for catching his own team throws. No wonder Hugh Vyvyan [right], looked so surprised to have caught this one!
Sarries woke up in the second half and played some good rugby, scoring two tries (Vyvyan and de Kock) plus having another judged to have been held up over the line by the TMO.
They even went into the lead briefly towards the end, but Newcastle's Jamie Noon put the nail in the coffin scoring in the 78th minute, with Jonny Wilkinson [left] hammering it further in with the conversion.
One thing I did find confusing was the Falcons' away strip, which seems to be a direct ripoff of England's gear from a couple of years ago. Perhaps they got them in a closeout sale?
At least losing by only 3 points meant Sarries pick up a bonus point, which might well come in handy later in the season. And they are still 3rd in the Premiership table at present. Next weekend's away trip to Brizzle will see if they can climb any higher in the near future.
You can see more of my photos from Sunday's game here.
Next time I'm at Vicarage Road will be for the Heineken Cup tie against Biarritz on 12th January - hopefully it won't be quite as dark as it was for the Newcastle game! And a victory then would certainly help Sarries towards a HC Quater Final place.