I have to admit, I had little enthusiasm for the idea of rugby on a pouring wet day, and as I set out to drive the 100+ mile round trip in a deluge yesterday, I sincerely hoped it would be worth my trouble. I had decided against going on the train (an equally appalling prospect from Chelmsford to Watford), so had to queue for half an hour for a car park space with all the Christmas shoppers. Thankfully, I'd left loads of time for the trip.
The rain was still lashing down when the game started, and I feared we were in for a dull kicking game with lots of handling errors. How wrong could I be! Within the first 2 minutes, Saracens had scored through new Fijian Flaker Sakiusa Matadigo [left], making his home debut for the club.
Most of the fans sat there in happy disbelief as Sarries proceded to score another four tries before half time, bagging the all-important bonus point with only half the match gone!
Two more new signings were also taking the field for the first time in First Team colours, having performed well in the A-Team's 63-0 drubbing of Bath last Monday. Namely All Black Lock Chris Jack [right, with Hugh Vyvyan dwarfing Captain Neil de Kock during a break in play] and South African Utility Back Brent Russell.
CJ showed what a class act he is, stealing lineouts, running in broken play and setting up some lovely cheeky reverse pass offloads, one of which gave Kameli Ratouvu his first try during the match. Alan Gaffney has said the rest of the squad need to get into a higher gear so they can keep up with him - but from what I saw, they weren't having much trouble!
One guy who definitely wouldn't have any problem keeping pace with the big Kiwi is the aforementioned Russell [left, just about to kick the ball down the opposition Fullback's throat]. Whenever he saw half a gap, he was off like greased lightening. And he was solid under the high ball catches even with such tricky handling conditions. So money well spent, I reckon!
The rest of the team seemed to be working really well together too - there was plenty of quick ball and passing out of the tackles. The scrum was immense, winning at least three against the head and worrying the Italians on plenty of other occasions - but to give them credit, they rarely buckled and gave away penalties at the scrum - Viadana's speciality seemed to be straying offside at rucks. Most of the time, the ref spotted it quickly and Sarries were awarded another penalty. Most were taken as kicks to the corner for a catch and drive move, and Glen Jackson only had one penalty attempt at goal all afternoon. He got that, and 9 out of the 10 conversions!
Cencus Johnston [right] came on for Cobus Visagie after the break, and got up to his usual tricks - he made good ground and has a lovely sidestep which seems to fool the opposition defences - they obviously don't believe a 20-stone prop can be so mobile!
By the end of the match, poor old Viadana were looking rather tired and glad it was over - they did score one try of their own, by Fly Half Calvin Howarth [left], from a wayward Saracens' pass which he intercepted and ran most of the way up field to score. Although he converted it, he hadn't had a great time with the boot for the rest of the game - several restart kicks either didn't go 10m, or went straight out into touch - and at other times, he failed to find touch when he needed to!
Other honourable mentions should go to Richard Hill - great to see him having a good game and scoring from a pushover, and Richard "Del Boy" Haughton who scored three tries. All in all, well worth the stinking journey round the M25 to see - Saracens' highest win in their Heineken Cup history. Let's hope they can get another 5-point victory next week - when they are away to Viadana. I'm sure they will have a good psychological advantage now!
You can see more of my photos from Saturday's game here.
The other surprise of the weekend was Glasgow beating Biarritz 9-6 to take them to second in Pool 4 - with Sarries sitting nicely at the top: