Lynagh puts; Saracens on Europe's map

Saracens 26 Castres 21
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The Independent Online
Saracens are making a big impact in their debut season in Europe. Their opening match, away to Narbonne, last year's beaten semi-finalists, resulted in an unexpected victory. Yesterday saw them go one better when they disposed of the hard men of Castres, who lost in last season's Conference final.

It was also Saracens first competitive match at their new ground - Watford FC's Vicarage Road. It was not all pretty stuff, but it had its moments, notably the opening minutes. Saracens are nothing if not innovative. They had organised a radio-controlled vehicle to carry the kicking tee on to the pitch. The operators had a bit of laugh at Michael Lynagh's expense when he was preparing for his first penalty. The vehicle halted just short of the former Australian fly-half and as he reached out for the tee it set off again, startling Lynagh.

By then Saracens had already startled the Frenchmen with two sharply taken tries, the first in the second minute, when Lynagh chipped over the defence for Richard Wallace to steam in on the right, the conversion of which heralded the introduction of the Model Tee carrier.

The second try was a beauty, again engineered by Lynagh. His mis-pass found Brendon Daniel, a burly New Zealander, out on the left. With half of Castres, or so it seemed, hanging on to him, the left wing put in a left-handed pass behind his back and Philippe Sella was on hand to spurt through the resultant gap.

It was the former French international's vision which set up their third try. Sella charged down a kick, turned and popped it up for Steve Ravenscroft to thunder over. That was early in the second half; 10 minutes later Sella displayed an astonishing turn of speed. His 35-year-old legs left younger men on both sides flat-footed as he raced through their ranks. It came to nought, but he had already done enough.

Castres' points came chiefly via the boot of Thomas Castaignede: three penalties and the conversion of their first try by the substitute prop, Mauricio Reggiardo; his only miss the conversion of their second try by the full-back Olivier Sarramea in injury time.

Saracens: Tries R Wallace, Sella, Ravenscroft; Conversion Lynagh; Penalties Lynagh 3. Castres: Tries Reggiardo, Sarramea; Conversion Castaignede; Penalties Castaignede 3.

Saracens: M Singer; B Daniel (R Constable, 76), P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, B Free; B Reidy (A Olver, 61), G Chuter (G Botterman, 68), P Wallace, D Grewcock, T Copsey (P Ogilvie, 78), B Sturnham, F Pienaar (capt), T Diprose.

Castres: O Sarramea; P Escalle, E Artiguste, J-M Aue, C Lucquiaud; T Castaignede, F Seguier; L Toussaint, C Batut, T Lafforgue (M Reggiardo, 66), C Gaston (L Bonventre, 48), J-F Gourragne, B Dalla Riva (I Lassissi, 53), N Hallinger (capt), T Labrousse.

Referee: P Bolland (Wales).