MATCH REPORT | Saracens Men 40-33 Cardiff Rugby
Saracens Men progressed to the Quarter Final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup after an eventful 40-33 victory over Cardiff Rugby at StoneX Stadium.
A topsy-turvy match was eventually settled by the Men in Black who scored five tries against a dogged Cardiff side, as a strong final quarter ensured their passage in to the last eight.
In a cagey opening it was Cardiff who hit the front with 10 minutes on the clock. Sarries were penalised at the breakdown, and Rhys Priestland made no mistake from 35 metres out to edge his side in to a 3-0 lead.
The hosts got themselves level five minutes later via the boot of Owen Farrell, who punished Cardiff for some ill-discipline and made it 3-3.
Cardiff then missed a golden chance as a break straight through the middle of the Sarries defence created an overlap on the right wing, but Owen Lane couldn’t gather and the home crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Alex Goode’s monstrous 50:22 then brought the crowd to life, and from the lineout another penalty arrived which Farrell kicked as he put his side in front for the first time in the match.
On the half hour mark he kicked his third of the afternoon as the hosts moved 9-3 in front, but then straight from the restart Cardiff hit back with another penalty to ensure the deficit stayed at three.
Just before half time came a crucial moment as Sarries scored the first try of the match to take control of the game. An attacking set play saw multiple runners heading towards the defence, and Duncan Taylor’s brilliant offload to Dom Morris released the centre who raced through from 25 metres out. Farrell’s conversion meant his side now had a 10 point lead as we approached the break.
However Cardiff had other ideas, and with the final play of the half got right back in it with a try from Tomos Williams. The scrum half sniped off the back of a lineout and then stepped the final defender to dot down in acrobatic style. Priestland added the extras, meaning the Sarries lead was 16-13 as the players went down the tunnel for the break.
The visitors had a chance to get level in the opening exchanges of the second half, but Priestland’s penalty attempt was dragged wide and Sarries could clear the danger.
Sean Maitland then burst through a gap in the defence and he was racing towards the 22, but the defence managed to track him down and then they stole the ball at the breakdown.
Cardiff then struck on the 50 minute mark as they hit the front once again, and this time Lane made up for the earlier error by scoring under the sticks. They had a penalty deep in the 22, and then an offload sent the winger straight through to the delight of the visiting fans. Priestland’s conversion gave them a four point lead with 30 minutes left.
That seemed to spark the hosts in to life, as they scored just two minutes later to retake the lead. A penalty advantage meant they span the ball wide, and then a delightful inside pass sent Max Malins through a gap, and he drew in the final man and sent Maitland through who was never going to be stopped. Farrell’s extras reinstated the three point advantage.
Priestland then levelled it once again from the tee after Sarries were overly eager at the breakdown, setting up a grandstand finish with 25 minutes left.
The rollercoaster second half then took another turn as Maitland crossed for his second just before the hour as they retook the lead. Farrell again put Malins through a gap, and he had Maitland on his shoulder once agin who slid over in the corner.
Priestland’s fourth penalty then once again cut the gap, meaning the lead was just two points as we entered the final quarter.
Aled Davies then crossed for a vital score to edge the hosts further ahead. Malins again broke the line but his unfortunate slip meant they needed another phase, but that was no problem as Morris’ grubber bounced up perfectly for the scrum half who punched the air in delight after the fourth try for the hosts.
Malins went from provider to scorer for the next try which all-but booked the place in the last eight. Farrell’s sublime offload to the England winger sent him through a huge gap, and this time he used his pace to run straight under the posts. The conversion meant that the lead was now up to a more comfortable 14 points.
Cardiff then scored with just five minutes left as they eyed up a famous comeback, former Saracen Rhys Carre dotted down from just a metre out, and then the conversion made it 40-33 with the final stages upon us.
Tim Swinson’s crucial intervention in a Cardiff maul which was try-line bound then got his side the ball back with seconds left, and then Malins hammered the ball in to touch to confirm a huge win for the North Londoners.