Sep 20, 2014
Late show breaks Exiles hearts
Saracens snatched a late win 32-36 against London Irish in a pulsating game at the Madejski Stadium.
Billy Vunipola was the match winner for Saracens as Mark McCall’s side maintained their unbeaten start to the season against a spirit Exiles outfit.
With Saracens 32-29 down with a minute left on the clock, London Irish were penalised in their 22-metre zone at the scrum. Saracens captain Brad Barritt instructed his side to kick for touch rather than kick the points. The England centre’s decision immediately bore fruit when No.8 Vunipola crossed for the match winner on the back of a devastating Saracens driving maul orchestrated by the excellent Hayden Smith, who had a fine 80 minutes in the heart of the Saracens engine room.
Saracens raced into a 7-0 lead after 50 seconds when Tim Streather scorched away to score after Alex Goode danced his way through the Exiles backline. Fly-Half Owen Farrell converted and the England No.10 extended Saracens lead minutes later when his sent over a eighth minute penalty.
London Irish responded almost immediately when Blair Cowen ran in his side’s first try of the afternoon. Exiles inside centre Shane Geraghty converted.
Farrell added another penalty for Saracens before Richard Wigglesworth crossed for a well-taken try in the 22nd minute. Some fine counterattacking work from Chris Ashton (who was making his 50th Saracens appearance) put the Irish defence on the back foot. With the home side retreating, scrum-half Wigglesworth sold the dummy at the ruck and raced away to score a fine solo effort in the left hand corner. Farrell again expertly converted form the touchline to give Saracens a 7-20 lead.
Brian Smith’s charges though responded superbly, with halfback Scott Steele and fly-half Chris Noakes continuing to ask questions of the Sarries defence. It was fly-half Noakes who would play a role in his side’s second try, when he sent over an expertly judged cross field kick for winger Alex Lewington who collected to score. Geraghty converted and minutes later Lewington would cross again for his second try when he ran onto a well-weighted Scott Steele grubber. Geraghty missed his conversion attempt.
As the half wore on Farrell coolly slotted over another penalty before half-time as Mark McCall’s side went into the break 19-23 up.
The second half saw the home side continue to their impressive display, and it came as no surprise to 6,000+ crowd in the Madejski Stadium when they crossed for the second-half's first try. After Shane Geraghty had edged his side in front with a well-struck penalty a minute into the second-half, winger Alex Lewington raced onto another Exiles kick to score and give the home side a 29-23 lead.
Saracens then responded with an Alex Goode penalty, to reduce the scores to a three point ball game with Geraghty responding to re-establish the Exiles six-point lead after 62 minutes.
Then the game descended into a nervous shootout between Goode and Geraghty with the two players missing penalty kicks as the game drew to a close. Goode though, pulled one back for Saracens as they trailed the Exiles by three points once again with minutes to go.
Then, on 79 minutes, the Saracens scrum that impressed for the majority of the game forced the Exiles into conceding a penalty. Barritt confidently instructed replacement Charlie Hodgson to send the ball into touch. Saracens set-up the maul and drove their way to a famous win much to the delight of the Saracens travelling faithful.