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Saints' Double delight – Sarries get the hump then Munster Stagnate

First an apology for no report last week – real life and grandparenting got in the way! But this week we have a double helping of fun and frolics.

I have to confess that I was one of the nervy Saints supporters at the game against Saracens. So many times our green shoots of revival have been pruned back to the root by Sarries. And results from the week before did nothing to calm my nerves.

In my new volunteer role as a Halo I was able to see Sarries arrive – they looked quietly confident, stopping for autographs and connecting with their fans. They were still on a high from putting the “Mighty Quins” to the sword in some style and looking forward to denting our hopes of staying at the top.

But this current crop of Saints was able to put the dismal performance at Bristol well and truly behind it and go back to playing the Saints way.

Sarries were blown away from the kick off as Saints ramped up a 17 point lead within 12 minutes – lock Alex Coles started the scoring with a galloping try after Freeman, Pearson and Odendaal had put Sarries defence in some disarray. Fin’s boot was bang on target.

Then came the best try that he has never scored from Ollie Sleightholme as he scythed through six Saracens defenders only to be brought down inches from the line by Lewington, a quick off load, a tip back by Coles and Ramm crossed the line. There was a bit of a debate about the grounding but because of the way Luke Pearce had asked the question the try stood! Fin slotted over the extras. And he was on target again with a penalty soon after.

We were starting to believe but always tense waiting for the pesky Sarries to burst back – and it looked as if the comeback had started when a Tom James box kick was charged down by McFarland who re-gathered to score. Owen Farrell not only got the conversion but also knocked over a penalty 15 minutes before half time.

The momentum seemed to be with Sarries but as porous as the defence had been against Bristol it was as resolute against the Barnet boys and try as they would there was no way through the solid wall of green, black and gold.

After the half time oranges (does anybody have those anymore?) Sarries were first on the scoreboard with another penalty. However nerves were settled when James Ramm took the ball at speed from a beautifully timed Fin Smith pass and was safely over between the posts. I was starting to really believe now....Even a charge down on Ramm’s kick by the equally irritating and talented Ben Earl failed to seriously upset me – there was still 20 minutes to go and Saints were looking by far the most dangerous team.

And then a deliberate knock on by Lewington saw Sarries reduced to 14. Tommy Freeman didn’t bother to make use of the space on the wing but burst through the middle to score after some sublime passing from Tom James and Fin Smith.

At this point I feel I must mention referee Luke Pearce who must have had a table reservation somewhere as he was hidebound in harrying Saints to use the ball quickly. He awarded a free kick against Tom James because he had exceeded Pearce’s five second countdown for a box kick and he questioned Fin taking the full 90 seconds for his conversion as not being in the spirit of the game......all a bit strange and also all a bit one way....not that it mattered.

Then Ollie Sleights got his just reward as he was put over in the corner by Dingwall who had pounced on a loose ball just as Sarries seemed to be trying to marshall some form of attack. The unforgiving tackling of Saints caused the handling errors and Dingers didn’t need to be asked twice.

That was it, really – Sarries went on to get two quick tries in the final seconds – arguably the seconds that Fin should have been allowed to use up with his conversion – so they had a bonus point. Their two tries also came after Fin had been given a yellow card for something – being too good too young? – who knows. He trotted off looking a little aggrieved as they announced that he was Player of the Match!

Notwithstanding that small fly in the ointment we headed to European knock out still top of the Prem and having done the double on our nemesis from previous seasons!

Talking of nemeses – we then turned to face Munster in the extra knock-out round of the Investec Champions Cup. The way this cup works has been so complicated – any competition which needs a spreadsheet and sliderule to work out how you progress is not fit for purpose.

Munster were looking to avenge an historic Saints victory at Thomond Park in January, when Saints had overcome the elements, the history and a red card to snatch a late and important win.

Munster fans as ever were all over the place – loud, proud and a sea of red. But the Gardens faithful didn’t go into the shell as has happened in the past. Flags were waved and voices raised to make us the 16th man too!

On the pitch Munster threw the kitchen sink at us, closely followed by a wardrobe and a couple of tallboys. But our defence just rearranged the furniture and ensured that no Munstermen got through, finally holding the ball up over the line.

Burger Odendaal continued to be an impressive ball carrier and after some sterling work by Our Courts battered down the red defence – offloaded to James Ramm and he hurtled over the line for the first score. Fin converted despite the swirly, gusting wind.

The Limerick stalwarts struck back with two tries but with four minutes to go it was déjà-vu all over again as a Fin Smith pass put Tommy Freeman over for a try in almost exactly the same position as against Sarries. Fin converted and we went into the break 14 all.

It all got a bit bogged down after the break, then the benches were emptied and that was where the difference really came into play. Alex Mitchell bounced onto the field having recovered from his wrist injury picked up whilst on Six Nations duty and George Hendy cantered onto the wing.

With his first touch of the ball he cantered and then galloped over the line for a decisive try. The speed of the backline and the speed of the passing involving Fin, Ollie, James Ramm and finally George Hendy was a thing of great beauty.

And George was at his galloping, runaway best scoring a try that he had absolutely no right to score! He had to turn to scoop up a wayward pass from Ramm but then he put on the afterburners and with his inimitable running style scorched past the onrushing Munster defence to get safely over the line. Sheer brilliance!

And there we were safely through to the quarter finals with a game against the Vodacom Bulls from South Africa (I remember when this was a European competition) at The Gardens on Saturday.

Enjoy the photographs which are, as ever from Claire Jones – more here:

Red Hat Photography. And to see and hear Photographer Claire and your correspondence talking things Saintly rugby – have a listen to Ladies Wot Pod.

And if you want to see posts and discussions from fellow Saints’ fans hop over to Saints Sinners on Facebook.


Even Fazlet using his arms in the tackle couldn't stop Burger breaking through


The big chaps - doing some damage on the hoof! Alex Coles (left) and the legend that is Courtney Lawes


Move over Jamie George - Curtis Langdon sets off to show his International potential!


Rambo! Back to his classiest best after his lengthy injury layoff


Speedy Saints - Freemo and  Sleights - running them in for fun!

Champions Cup action


Making amends -  player of the match Curtis Langdon makes no mistakes this time!


Work still to be done before they go - Ludlam and Lawes getting stuck in


Back where he belongs - at The Gardens! Welcome home, Mitch


Simon Zebo's second failed attempt to stop the out of control galloping George Hendy!

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