Saracens forwards are key to Champions Cup success at Toulon
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
A fixture between Toulon and Saracens is always billed as a blockbuster – and Saturday’s pool three Champions Cup opener certainly lived up to the pre-game excitement.
With two European heavyweights exchanging blows for that all important first-round victory, Sarries’ first-half three-try blitz was enough to win them the game and bring Toulon’s astonishing home European record to an abrupt end.
While it was probably their best ever first-half performance, that four-try bonus point proved a little too far out of reach for the Hendon club.
Looking at their incredible first period at the Stade Mayol, it was clear the game plan focused on ball in hand and quick recycling at the breakdown.
Fortunately for Sarries, it paid off and the physical pack of the Toulon forwards couldn’t get a foothold in the game. By playing in such a way, it meant the likes of Mamuka Gorgodze and Duane Vermeulen couldn’t compete at the breakdown and slow the Sarries momentum.
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But let’s not take anything away from the Saracens forwards – who were immense in the loose and gave the injection of pace going forward.
The handling skill of their front five is something to marvel at. Off-loading and quick judgement in when to give the pass is something more accustomed to a certain southern hemisphere side who are dominating world rugby at present.
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The manner in which Saracens scored their tries exemplified the homework they had done on their opponents.
As the Sarries forwards built up the phases, Toulon began to defend more narrowly and attempt to stop Billy Vunipola and co getting over the advantage-line – thus giving the space out wide for Sean Maitland to get over the whitewash in the corner for his third of the season.
Conversely for the second try, it was the awareness of Jamie George to pick his line of a run that penetrated the Toulon defence – who were looking to make amends following the first try.
George found the space well and a deft offload to the supporting Richard Wigglesworth produced his team’s second try under the posts. George’s skill and ability undoubtedly puts himself forward as England’s premier hooker and justified his starting position against Toulon.
Knowing that each and every Sarries player has that calmness and adept nature with the ball in hand and the ability to off-load in the tackle will make Mark McCall and his coaches more confident of yet another successful season.
Again, the forwards gave Sarries the impetus for their third try and epitomised their first-half display. Another front-rower, Mako Vunipola, used his slick footwork to get over the advantage-line and his superb off-load to Owen Farrell was more akin to a sevens game.
Sarries kept the ball alive and were able to suck in a number of defenders before Chris Wyles touched down out wide.
Again the move typified Sarries’ preparations in knowing how Toulon’s defensive pattern shifts phase after phase.
Regardless of a number of heart-in-mouth moments for McCall’s men in the second half, it was the forwards who won the game, despite the backs taking the plaudits in scoring the points.
With a return to Allianz Park on Saturday for the visiting Scarlets in the second round of the Champions Cup, it’s difficult to see how the Welsh side will contain the Sarries pack.
The north London club have sent a very strong message to the rest of the competition. From the performance at Toulon, there’s no denying that Sarries mean business and look set for another successful campaign in Europe’s elite competition.
Follow me on Twitter: @aarontillyer