Saturday, January 12, 2008

Basques Sent Packing

Having lost their last two matches, one home and one away to Bristol, the Sarries faithful were hoping for better things when Biarritz came calling for their Heineken Cup pool match. For the first half hour or so, there were a few heads in hands as the Men In Black seemed to be letting things slide once more. Two paltry penalties were all they had to show for their efforts, while Biarritz had managed a try from Romain Cabannes [left], a conversion and two penalties.

Somehow, during first half injury time, Sarries woke up when Hugh Vyvyan [right] managed to get over the line, and Jackson converted. All of a sudden, things didn't look too bad, going in at half time all square 13-13.

The Gaffer must have had stern words in the dressing room during the break. Saracens came out looking like a different team, and basically blew the Basques off the park in the second half! The floodgates opened.

Chris Jack scored with a taunting tongue before he put the ball down! [left, you can see Hugh Vyvyan celebrating already]. Then Rodd Penney crossed the line and Jackson converted. A few minutes later, Sarries were awarded a penalty which the sure-footed Jackson booted over with no trouble.

The forwards were dominating the scrum and Fabio Ongaro had obviously been practicing hitting the barn door during training last week, since most of his lineout throws went where they should.

The pack were also making plenty of big hits, running with the ball and generally making a nuisance of themselves as far as Biarritz were concerned. Prop Nick Lloyd showed great skill making a wonderful diving catch to keep the ball in play close to the Biarritz line. And although Cencus Johnston wasn't flying up the wing this week, he was making some phenomenal hits in midfield:

[Cencus moves in for the kill, and batters Jérôme Thion into spilling the ball]

In the 75th minute, Biarritz Bruiser Serge Betsen infringed again, and referee Nigel Owens sent him to the sin-bin for ten minutes. The Basques were down to 14 men, and after Sarries brought on a flurry of replacements with fresh legs, they made short work of putting more points on the board. Chris Jack scored his second of the day. Unfortunately, Glen Jackson was limping badly by then, so Captain Neil de Kock took the conversion - which he missed. But by then, the 4 tries and 5-points were in the bag.

Just when you thought it wasn't going to get any better, Saracens pushed deep into Biarritz territory during injury time, and the French knocked on. The Sarries scrum pulped their opposition - which kept collapsing the rolling maul Saracens were getting going 5m from the line. After 3 or 4 resets, each with the same result, Ref Owens lost patience with the Biarritz pack and walked to the posts to award Saracens a penalty try. Fullback Brent Russell took the kick and it sailed over to give Sarries a 45-16 victory.

Other honourable mentions must go to Man of the Match Hugh Vyvan; as well as scoring a try, he was all over the place, running the ball and making tackles. Andy Farrell, unselected for England's upcoming Six Nations campaign, made a big impact in midfield, as did ever-present Centre Kevin Sorrell [left].

He has started 16 out of 18 games for Saracens so far this season. Of those, he's played the full 80 minutes in all but two fixtures. And he came off the bench after 25 minutes in another game early in the season. The poor bloke must be knackered! No wonder the Sarries faithful call him Super Kev. He spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin at Bristol last week - probably a chance to have a bit of a rest!

So Saracens go into their final pool match at Glasgow on Friday knowing they will go through to the Quarterfinals as long as they can stop the Warriors getting a 5-point win - which is eminently feasible given how close recent games have been.

You can see more of my photos from Saturday's game here.

Add: here are some post-match reviews from the papers:

Chris Hewett in the Indy
Mick Cleary in the Telegraph
Mike Averis of the Gruaniad
Chris Foy in the Daily Mail
David Hands in the Times

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