As pointed out by Scrumdown, one of our knowledgeable contributors, yesterday Saracens played their first Premiership game at their new home ground, the Allianz Park, in Barnet Copthall. The match was played on an artificial surface and although it is the second game that has been played there it was the first one that they played in front of ten thousand people which is a capacity crowd for the stadium.
By all accounts the artificial surface stood up well to the rigours of a rugby match although it is far too early to pass any real judgement on the pitch’s influence on play. However, it must be noted that there were no reset scrums during the game. Whether this was down to good scrummaging by both teams or the assistance of a solid footing on the synthetic surface, designed especially for rugby, only time will tell. One of the negative points which has been noted was that the Saracens and Exeter kickers missed six kicks at goal between them in the first half. However, it seems that Saracens Charlie Hodgson was far more accurate with the boot in the second half.
The result saw Saracens ease past Exeter with the final score being a resounding 31-11 win for Saracens. Charlie Hodgson contributing 16 points by scoring a try and a penalty and converting four tries. Mako Vunipola scored two tries and Matt Stevens also dotted down for Saracens. The points for Exeter came from a try by Richard Baxter and two penalties by flyhalf Gareth Steenson. This was the first time in this year’s Premiership season that Saracens have scored four tries in a match, they have only managed fourteen tries in their other fourteen matches thus far. Again, whether this was down to the influence of the pitch or the magnitude of the occasion or merely the opposition only time will tell.
In other matches played on Saturday Bath comprehensively beat London Irish: 40 -16, Worcester lost at home 18-27 to Northampton and in a tough tussle Harlequins only just overcame Leicester, final score Harlequins 25-21 Leicester. Harlequins win puts them at the top of the Aviva Premiership table.
The Bath versus London Irish game was a fiery encounter with three yellow cards being handed out during the game to London Irish players. Their coach also didn’t seem happy after the game as he mentioned the fact that London Irish conceded twenty three penalties. One of the yellow cards was issued to Topsy Ojo after it was adjudged he put in a high tackle on Bath’s Tom Biggs just as he was about to score a try, the referee awarded a penalty try to Bath for this as well. The other yellow cards went to full back Tom Homer and substitute loose forward Jon Fisher
The victory came at some cost though for Bath as their number once choice flyhalf Stephen Donald had to leave the field early in the game with some damage to a rib and may be out of the game for at least four weeks. Bath captain Francois Louw also had to be replaced during the game with a hip injury which needs to be assessed.
Tom Heathcote, who came on for the injured Donald, surely put in a performance that must have got Scotland coach Scott Johnson thinking about reinstating him to the Scotland’s Six Nation squad. Heathcote was called up belatedly by former coach Andy Robinson during the end of year fixtures last year and came on quite late as a replacement for then flyhalf Greg Laidlaw in Robinson’s final game in charge against Tonga. Heathcote was originally included in an extended Six Nations squad but then omitted when Johnson cut the size of the squad.
Tom Heathcote contributed 17 points with the boot for Bath with four conversions and three penalties. He also played a big part in Abendanon’s try by attacking to the right and then floating a perfect pass to Abendanon who just made it over the line in the corner.
The remainder of Bath’s points came from the penalty try previously mentioned and tries by substitutes Nathan Catt and Anthony Perenise. In reply there was a solitary try by London Irish’s substitute Jack Moates which was converted by flyhalf Ian Humphreys, while fullback Tom Homer was successful with three penalties.
The remaining fixtures of round fifteen of the Aviva Premiership take place today with London Wasps hosting Gloucester, while London Welsh are at home against Sale Sharks. The first game kicks off at 14.00 and the second game 16.00 South African Time.