December 10 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe, By James Cunliffe
Friday, October 11, 2013
Heineken Cup Pool 3: Connacht 17 Saracens 23
Saracens maintained their unbeaten start to the season, but only just, as Owen Farrell’s late penalty saw them past a plucky Connacht side.
The Aviva Premiership leaders had started off like a steam train but required backs-to-the-wall defending in a nail-biting final two minutes as the Irish province sought a converted try that would have clinched victory at The Sportsground.
Indeed, the Hendon side will think themselves lucky to come away from their Heineken Cup opener with the points as the unfancied Galway outfit rallied from the early 14-3 deficit to put in a determined performance that almost provided a shock.
But Sarries are nothing if not resilient and the performance highlighted all the old grittiness married with a first 15 minute blitz that saw Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton touchdown in sumptuous style to showcase their newfound expansiveness.
The first of those tries came in the sixth minute from a textbook lineout that was speedily sprayed out to their United States centre whose feign took out three defenders and gave him the space to burst over the whitewash from 30 metres. Farrell added the extras but opposite number Dan Parks reduced the arrears momentarily with a penalty.
From the restart Ashton chased down the kick to hold up the hosts and help his side turn the ball over and from there his 14 team-mates weaved a wonderful score fit to grace any rugby pitch in the world. Saracens pulled Connacht inside and out with Mako Vunipola crashing through the gain line before the ball went, with tremendous rapidity, through the backs to the unusually positioned hooker Schalk Brits who provided Ashton with his third try of the season. Farrell again added two points and Connacht looked shell-shocked – but it didn’t last long.
The Galway side soon exploited a worrying weakness in Sarries under the high ball, helped by the swirling wind. And that’s how Connacht returned fire as Danie Poolman dashed after a booming kick, making a nuisance of himself before scum-half Kieran Marmion capitalised from static indecision to pick up and cut a swathe through the Vunipola brothers, running in between the posts. Parks narrowed the gap further.
After their electric start, the Londoners had struggled to build with ball in hand. The hosts did concede a penalty however and Farrell scooped it over from just inside the Irish side’s territory.
Another up-and-under so nearly provided dividends once more as Marmion, who pulled the strings from there in, almost hacked through to the line.
The hosts did draw level moments later. Saracens defended manfully through seven phases on their try-line but Connacht’s influential half-back spotted South African Poolman in space with enough room to side-step his way over. Parks slotted the extras and then Sarries were dealt a blow as Will Fraser, affected by a problem recurrence in his shoulder, was replaced by Ernst Joubert.
Parks missed a penalty which would have handed his side the lead and that was the final action of a breathless first period which ended all squad at 17 apiece.
Sarries’ modus operandi for the restart was much the same as the opening half and they quickly got on the front foot.
They were denied a third score after the Television Match Official correctly ruled that Joubert had first grounded short of the paint then a pick-and-go in the next phase from George Kruis was held up in-goal.
Moments later Neil de Kock glimpsed the line but was bundled into touch just shy of the target as the RaboDirect Pro12 side threw everything into their rearguard which was only pierced before the hour mark by a Farrell penalty to edge the visitors three points ahead.
A further crisp strike at goal with five minutes remaining looked to be enough for the Premiership side but the Galway men geared up for one last push for victory.
They got as far as the whitewash but resolute Sarries defending swatted them off as they ran through phase after phase, picking and driving but getting nowhere. And when the play was spread infield Duncan Taylor put in a fabulous match-saving tackle in front of the uprights to allow his team-mates to flood the breakdown and force a penalty that ended a tense first foray into Europe this term.