Match Report: Saracens Men 34 – 34 London Irish
Saracens Men had to settle for honours even after a dramatic 34-34 draw against London Irish at StoneX Stadium.
Mark McCall’s side scored five tries and at one point had a 34-8 lead in the second half, but the Exiles completed their late comeback with a converted try in the final minute.
The hosts started impressively and took the lead just four minutes in to the match. They began with superb intensity and a succession of penalties meant the ball was kicked to the corner, and from the resulting maul the in-form Tom Woolstencroft rumbled over to put his side 5-0 ahead.
The chances kept coming, and the second try was almost scored just five minutes later but the referee called a knock on. Tim Swinson took advantage of a dropped ball in the 22 and his acrobatic offload to Jackson Wray looked to have put the co-captain clear, but the Irish defence scrambled back and the ball went forward.
Paddy Jackson got Irish on the board with a straight forward penalty on the 15 minute mark, meaning for all of their early possession, Sarries only had a two-point lead to show for it.
Alex Lozowski then restored the five point lead with a penalty after some more phases in the Irish 22, making it 8-3 as the first quarter drew to a close.
A crucial moment then followed as Adam Coleman was shown a red card for the visitors after a high tackle on Wray, giving Sarries a one-man advantage for the next hour.
They nearly capitalised straight away as Rotimi Segun broke in to the Irish 22 down the wing, but the inside pass went to ground just as the defence looked stretched.
The dominance did get the reward with 29 minutes played, and Segun, who had been lively in the early stages crossed for try number two. A penalty was kicked to the corner, and then a smart move saw a dummy off the back of the maul and Segun used his searing pace to race over.
Irish then came close to a score to get right back in to the match, but as Nick Phipps sniped his way to the line the Exiles were penalised for crossing and Sarries escaped.
The visitors had one more opportunity before the break as Ollie Hassell-Collins stepped in to the 22, but Andy Christie’s text-book turnover got the ball back and Sarries went down the tunnel with a 13-3 advantage.
The Men in Black had two golden chance just one minute after the restart as Alex Lewington flew through a gap in the defence but was tracked down, and then Elliott Obatoyinbo spotted some space but his pass to Ben Earl was read by Tom Parton.
It was third time lucky though as Segun went over for his second six minutes in to the second half. Some neat hands in the middle from Alex Goode and Duncan Taylor created space out wide, and it was spun to the winger who had an easy run over the whitewash. Alex Lozowski’s touchline conversion made it 20-3 with just over half an hour remaining.
The bonus-point score arrived just three minutes later as the hosts began to dominate proceedings. Christie juggled a flat pass from Mako Vunipola, and then his brilliant offload set Earl free to race under the sticks. Another conversion from Lozowski took the lead up to 24 points.
Irish responded well and got their first try of the match with 55 minutes gone. A penalty gave them the territory, and then after a succession of phases they eventually passed it wide to Kyle Rowe who stepped over.
Try number five then arrived for the hosts as they went over the 30 point mark in style. Vunipola’s strong carry saw him put his head down and burst through the first line of defence, charging over from just over five metres out. Lozowski added the extras and Sarries now led 34-8.
Rowe then scored a brilliant individual try for Irish as the game opened up in the final quarter, the winger gathered the ball on the half way line and stepped all the way over past a number of defenders.
Irish were then dreaming of a comeback as Phipps went over for their third score, another opportunistic score following a break from Hassell-Collins, and with Rory Jennings’ conversion all of a sudden the lead was down to 12 points.
The visitors had their tails up and their bonus point try set up a grandstand finish at StoneX. A string of penalties took them right up to the line, and then from th e base of the lineout Matt Rogerson powered over to the delight of the visiting supporters. Crucially the conversion went wide, meaning the lead remained seven points.
Irish wouldn’t lie down and they eventually completed the comeback with 84 minutes on the clock. With phase after phase the defence had to be on the fringes of the ruck, and that created space for Rowe to complete his hat trick on the wing. That meant it all came down to the final conversion, which Jennings slotted to make it 34-34 in the final play.
The draw means Sarries stay second in the league table as it takes a break for the next fortnight to accommodate the Premiership Cup.