Wednesday 18 September 2019

Farrell leads Sarries past feeble Welsh resistance

Cardiff 14 Saracens 26

Saracens wing Sean Maitland crosses for the first try. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Saracens wing Sean Maitland crosses for the first try. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

A year ago this weekend, Saracens slumped to their seventh successive defeat, a run so out of kilter with the norm it was like going back in time to find Henry VIII supping with the Pope. The Premiership champions arrived in Cardiff nursing a 21-match unbeaten record stretching back to April Fool's Day having put 51 points on the Blues six days before and won with a degree of comfort on the wettest of afternoons.

The Blues fought for 80 minutes rather than the 40 they had at Allianz Park, but Saracens know how to grind out victories. Trailing at half-time, as they had the previous weekend, they absorbed pressure, scored points on their few visits to their opponents' 22 and, tellingly, survived the loss of the second-row Will Skelton to the sin-bin after 62 minutes.

Saracens player Michael Rhodes tackles Blues centre Willis Halaholo. Photo: Getty
Saracens player Michael Rhodes tackles Blues centre Willis Halaholo. Photo: Getty

Sarries were then 16-14 ahead and the Blues scented an upset, twice declining a kickable penalty and opting for a scrum. They generated a shove on the first one, but in his excitement their replacement tighthead prop Dillon Lewis lost his binding and was penalised.

Saracens used a series of scrums to eat up Skelton's time off the field, resets and penalties reducing the pace to a crawl. The Blues' head coach, John Mulvihill, was left marvelling at the capacity of the Premiership champions to manoeuvre themselves out of a corner while at the same time taking aim at the referee, Jerome Garces.

"We were penalised for pushing too hard in one scrum, he said. "It's what you are supposed to do." The Blues lost the penalty count 17-9, blown at the breakdown as well as the scrum, felt Sean Maitland should have joined Skelton in the sin-bin after 65 minutes for taking out Garyn Smith in the air and were convinced that the match-deciding try, scored by Jamie George four minutes from time, should not have been awarded because Olly Robinson had prevented the grounding.

They had some reason to feel aggrieved, although Blaine Scully avoided a yellow card in the first half when he took out Alex Lewington in the air, but Saracens have honed an ability over the years to seize the moment. At the point they looked most vulnerable with Skelton in the sin-bin, they showed why they are probably the leading club in Europe.

Rey Lee-Lo of Cardiff Blues breaks the tackle of Brad Barritt of Saracens to score his side's first try. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Rey Lee-Lo of Cardiff Blues breaks the tackle of Brad Barritt of Saracens to score his side's first try. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Owen Farrell was near his own line, chased by three defenders. At the point they looked to collar him, he flicked a pass out of the back of his hand to Alex Goode. The fullback cleared it 60 metres down field and the Blues barely mustered another attack. "Players of that quality produce such stuff," marvelled Mulvihill, while Farrell cursed what he felt was his side's overly nice approach in the first-half when a 10-point lead sagged into a one-point deficit.

Sarries scored their first try after eight minutes, Maitland eluding Dan Fish too easily, before Farrell kicked the first of four penalties. The Blues hit back on their first visit to their opponents' 22, Ray Lee-Lo scoring from a scrum, but the English champions' control was reflected by another Farrell kick before Gareth Anscombe's left-footed chip was fielded by Smith as Maitland watched. Fish supported his wing and evaded Goode's challenge.

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Sarries regained the lead through Farrell's boot after 54 minutes. Lewis's problems up front gave the visitors a cushion seven minutes from time before George's contested late try denied the Blues a bonus point that would have been no use to them.

Scorers - Cardiff: Lee-Lo try, Fish try; Anscombe 2 cons. Saracens: Maitland try, George try; Farrell 2 cons, 4 pens.

Cardiff Blues: Fish; Scully, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, G Smith; Anscombe, L Jones; Gill, Dacey, Andrews, S Davies, Turnbull (capt), Manoa, Navidi, N Williams. Reps: Myhill, Thyer, D Lewis, Earle, O Robinson, D Blacker, S Shingler, M Morgan.

Saracens: A Goode; Maitland, Tompkins, Barritt, Lewington; Farrell, B Spencer; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Kruis, Skelton, Rhodes, Burger, Earl. Reps: Woolstencroft, Barrington, Figallo, D Day, N Isiekwe, C Clark, Wigglesworth, Lozowski,

Referee: J Garces (France)

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