Yesterday's game against Bath was a cracker. Saracens were without talismans in their team - Chris Jack has briefly gone back to NZ for a family commitment; Kevin Sorrell will be out for at least another 3 weeks with an ankle injury, and Captain Neil de Kock was pulled from the squad at the last minute to prevent a hamstring injury getting worse if played on, his place taken by Scrum Half Alan Dickens.
But despite facing a formiddable Bath side, the replacements and rest of the Saracens team held their hands (and heads) up to a man. They were strong in the tackles, dominant at the scrum (even scoring a couple against the head, despite being 6Kg lighter than the Bath bruisers). Glen Jackson was on song with the boot, scoring 6 out of 6 attempts at goal. And Brent Russell scored a brace of tries to help the Men In Black to an important 26-20 win.
[Brent Russell (the Pocket Rocket) shows Bath defender Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu a clean pair of heels]
There was plenty of adventurous play from both sides, and some great fast passes out of hand. Plus some big hits as usual!
[Bath hooker Pieter Dixon has trouble heading his way - in the form of two charging Saracens - Kris Chesney and Paul Gustard]
The much-vaunted new Bath signings Butch James [left] and Michael Claassens [right] also took to the pitch. James scored a lovely try in the 25th minute, but in the process dislocated his shoulder and will be out for 6 weeks. Ouch! Claassens was harries well by opposite number Alan Dickens, who has been short of game time for Sarries recently, but played a great match. (You can see more of my match photos here)
There were other casualties during the 80 minute too - temporary Captain Andy Farrell popped a rib and went off; Flanker Dave Seymour sustained a leg injury and forwards Fabio Ongaro and Hugh Vyvyan also took knocks. Due to Six Nations action next week, Saracens next game isn't until 10th February, so there's a few days to get the boys patched up before they face 11th-placed Worcester in Watford.
[Dave Seymour, another of the game's casualties, gets the ball out of a ruck]
Meanwhile, the Sarries coaching staff have made another big signing for next season, back rower Michael Owen [left] who will be leaving the Newport-Gwent Dragons for North London. Home-grown Ben Skirving has also extended his contract with Saracens until 2010. Initially overlooked by Brian Ashton for upcoming England squad, he's now been called up after another injury hit the team - good luck to him over the next few weeks!
Talking of which, the Six Nations is nearly upon us once more. A lot of water under the rugby bridge since the last one. I'm pleased to say I'll be going along to Twickenham for England's first game against Wales next weekend. And I'll be keeping a close eye on the other games too. Expext more posts soon!