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Champions Cup Game 2) Sarries at TP 24-10-14 19.45 KO


  • Champions Cup Game 2) Sarries at TP 24-10-14 19.45 KO

    A new competition, but many of the old values remain.

    It has been clear reading the site and watching the game from behind the sofa on Saturday that the name may have changed but the desire to win it is still the same. A massive dose of admiration and credit should go to Sale Sharks, their coach Steve Diamond and their raucous fans, that game was an absolute cracker and it was clear as day on the faces of Danny Cipriano and Ian Keatley how much it still means to win European Cup games. Sale are not a big money outfit, they represent a different and vital element of the Aviva Premiership but for all the animosity that has pervaded it was great to see such an engaging and commited battle go down.

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    That was quite the opener, whats about to follow aint exactly a bargain basement tussle either. We’ve a little history with these Saracens chaps.

    Our Form
    Hard on the heart for the masses, hard on the head for Axel. You cannot question their commitment, nor their belief that they can always win, but the second 40 mins in Dublin allied to the minutes 10-40 in the game on Saturday show that we cant string the whole package for vast spells just yet. When we do its a joy to behold, narrowing the field, picking and driving, making hard yards and when that stops we blitz it through Keatley’s hands, Murrays boot or Dinny’s bulk. Its not the most swashbuckling approach we’ve seen but I think its hugely efficient. To my eye we are making far far more yards per phase than we did at any stage under Penney, once we start to go up the field we really really do go up the field. Defensively we have an awful lot to work on in the centers, and our scrum on opposition ball has a tendency to creak or wobble unless the backs are to the wall, all things that can be rectified with a bit of time and awareness.

    Overall our form is good I believe, we have gotten ourselves into sticky situations but we are competing in the playoff positions domestically and have gotten a hard fought win on the road in Europe which wont swell any heads in the squad and left plenty to work on. That derided term ‘transition’ is beginning to bear fruit, there has been some unusual advancements into the leadership group of our team, such as Duncan Casey, Dave Foley, CJ and Felix Jones to name four. Fellas are taking up the mantle and making decisions on field which is vital for times post Paulie. Our pack looks powerful, not freakishly powerful but once we get on front foot we can make gains. The set piece is bulletproof from the sideline, Casey is like a laser guided missile with the ball and scrums are adequate if not crippling anyone just yet. Behind the pack we have a confident half back pairing who are enjoying the Axel approach to the game, Keats looked cool as a breeze nailing the decider but the emotion released after it sailed over the bar looked like a release of a lot of pent up feeling, hes earned that box office.

    Bench looked a bit beefier against Sale than at any stage so far this season, we are gonna need all 23 for the next game, Sarries are giants. We are 5 wins from 7 so far, scored 17 tries and conceded 8. Not bad going, beating Leinster and beating Sale will be good for the group for very differing reasons, whats key now is to finally put together 80 mins of solid, mental rugby before the bus departs for Carton House and Schmidt will be watching Munster keenly given the injury profile nationally. Leave it all on the field this Friday and you may just get a call from Joe.

    Their Form
    Monolithic (definition: large, powerful, indivisible, and slow to change

    This is one seriously powerful and class outfit, internationals all over the field, beaten HEC finalists last season, put 40 points on Clermont in the semifinal. They also lost the league final to Nothampton, they’re are a bonafide powerhouse of English rugby.

    Theyre second in the Aviva Premiership at the moment, their only loss in that competition was away to bath 2 weeks ago and they seemed to select that game as a rest week for the big guns. Crucially for us, they got a bonus point win at home to Clermont this weekend just past, 2 tries for Ashton and Strettle and off to a good start in the group. As a barometer, they beat Sale 40-19 three weeks ago in Allianz Park, Clermont didnt seem to offer a huge amount, the tries conceded were soft IMO. This current iteration of the ‘wolf pack’ as they like to call themselves is a bit more free flowing than in previous seasons, which previously had a tendancy to play a kick and chase territory game and eventually strangle you through Farrell or Charlie Hodgsons goal kicking. They’ve strike runners who can punish anyone in the back 3, and a rhino in SA born Brad Barritt at 12, he minds Hodgson and Farrell when they dont have the ball. Chris Wyles at 13 reminds me a lot of the Wasps legend Fraser Waters, nothing flashy just dependable and a decent decision maker. Scrumhalves dictate the Sarries game a lot, mainly because they like picking and driving, double pods and round the corner rugby, Wigglesworth and DeKock get an armchair ride behind a juggernaut. They really really like a high tempo, take try no.2 against clermont as an example, Wigglesworth quick tap and sprinting up the field, Strettle running a support line and into the corner, we cannot switch off for a minute (which Clermont did, a lot)

    Now to their pack, hell of a lot of their go forward is generated by their backrow, namely Big Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Kelly Brown & Ernst Joubert. However they’ve Bokke bulk in the second row as well, Mouritz Botha and Alastair Hargreaves. This is a very Southafrican based side, they’ve recruited a lot of their squad down there and they dont make them small. Sarries on the front foot is extremely difficult to stop, they have excellent hands and can move the ball out of the tackle. I’d suggest the controversial 4G pitch has allowed them to play a more positive game, especially with our old buddy Charlie Hodgson at 10, the man has as good a pass as any outhalf on the gainline in either direction. Farrell was meant to be touch and go for the AI’s with an injury but came off the bench against Clermont.

    BTW we’ve met 5 times in Europe, Munster have won 4, but theres only 4 points in the scoreline aggregate. This will be close.

    Things to watch out for
    Our focus: The forty winks periods have got to go, Sarries are like a test side, they WILL convert any half chances and they wont switch off at any stage whatsoever.

    Our communication: Predominately in defense because we have been cut to ribbons more than once, we’ve two centers learning the ropes at 12 and 13 in red so I’d like to see others outside of Murr and Felix mopping up the linebreaks. Denis Hurley, gotta move out sharper imo. Keeps biting in and we’re getting caught out wide as a result, not a game breaker issue and they’ll click it.

    Our bench and the nutters who stand behind it: This is gonna take all 23 players and 26,500 of us, buy a pint(s) and a burger in the ground, support local business and get stuck in behind the side.

    Key Men
    Jerome Graces, if French officiating has one trait its their inability to referee both sides of the ball. The team on top can do what they want, we adapted to that in Sale so fingers crossed. Duncan Casey said on newstalk yesterday that at halftime the team decided the best way to overcome the deficit was to attack attack attack.

    Murray, ya’ll know why at this stage, get us into the right areas of the field

    Farrell & Ashton, two narky belligerent and hugely confident players, big game attitudes and lethal.

    Quotable and Notable
    Munster trailed 5-10 after 34 minutes, 8-17 at half-time and were 24-30 down heading into injury time. But Munster refused to die. The men in red drive forward. Former Wallaby John Langford plucked a line-out ball from the heavens, his forwards drive him on. Then hooker Keith Wood seized possession and barged his way over the tryline. Sarries led by a single point, 30-29. Silence enveloped the ground. The European Rugby Cup website estimate there were 10,000 people inside the ground that day, but the actual attendance was significantly higher. O’Gara placed the ball on the appointed spot, about 30 yards out from goal, and midway between the posts and touchline.

    Sarries’ captain Francois Pienaar admitted that the two defeats to Munster had a profound effect on him, depsite all he achieved in rugby
    Pienaar later said: “I played a lot of rugby matches in my career and was fortunate to have many notable highs: Super 10, World Cup, great club occasions.
    “But the two games I played for Saracens against Munster back in 1999 have always stood out in my memory. That may seem strange but they had a profound effect on me. Munster are never ordinary opponents to face.”

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