May 24, 2014
Saracens Euro dream comes to an end
A comprehensive display from the reigning Heineken Cup Champions ended Saracens 2013/14 Euro adventure despite the gallant efforts of Mark McCall's men, led superbly by Steve Borthwick. Former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson kicked 13 points in a 23-6 win for the French side.
The lights went out moments before two of English rugby’s most respected and professional players led out their respective sides for the last time in a European clash, as Messrs Borthwick and Wilkinson took to the turf to a cacophony of noise and passion under the Millennium Stadium roof.
Saracens made a strong start, as Chris Ashton hunted down last season Heineken Cup semi-final man of the match Juan Martin Fenandez-Lobbe, as the Argentine looked to collect Owen Farrell’s pin-point kick off. Lobbe knocked on to give both sets of forwards, in particular the front rowers a chance to acquaint themselves with each other at the scrum. Saracens were awarded the pnalty as Mako Vunipola twisted and manoeuvred Carl Hayman into collapsing the scurm. Farrell took his time as he drowned out the whistles and boos to kick the first points of the game.
A team the calibre of RC Toulon would expect a response, and Wilkinson and his men didn’t disappoint as they immediately ventured into Saracens territory to test out the Saracens defence, but the Sarries stood firm to the first of many red and black attacks in the first half.
Toulon’s forwards though were in the mood. The Afrikaan lumps of Bakkies Botha, Dannie Rossouw and Juan Smith repeatedly battered the Saracens rearguard, with man of the match No.8 Steffon Armitage a constant menace. Saracens did frustrate their opponents and could have doubled their lead after Fernandez-Lobbe was yellow carded for taking Alistair Hargreaves out in the air, but Marcelo Bosch’s long range attempt fell short.
But Toulon’s dominance would eventually tell, and with Saracens missing only two tackles in the first forty minutes then it would be a good bet that a fortuitous bounce of the ball would break the deadlock after Matt Giteau’s clever grubber kick evaded Alex Goode with a wicked bounce, Drew Mitchell caught the ball and offloaded to the Australian who raced away to score. Wilkinson converted.
Before half-time, with Toulon now back to their full complement of 15 players with Lobbe’s return from the sin bin, Jonny Wilkinson landed a trademark drop goal to extend his sides lead to seven points as they went into the break.
The second-half again started positively for Mark McCall’s men as Owen Farrell landed his second kick of the afternoon, again after the Saracens front row forced their Toulon counterparts into a penalty. In reality that would be the only crumb of comfort for the north Londoners as Toulon cut loose in a performance that suffocated and frustrated Saracens.
After Wilkinson landed another penalty, Toulon scored their second of the evening in a fine, well-worked try between back rowers Juan Smith and Fernandez-Lobbe, with the former Springbok Smith the try scorer. Wilkinson again converted giving Saracens a mountain to climb.
After the England World Cup winner sent over yet another three points the nail was in the Saracens European coffin.
Saracens attention now moves to the Aviva Premiership Final next Saturday.