Rugby Union: Diprose alone in breaking the defensive wall

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The Independent Online
Richmond 10

Saracens 15

When referee Steve Lander called time on proceedings everyone thought it was all over, Saracens had won a titanic, exhilarating Allied Dunbar Premiership One match to keep the pressure on the leaders, Newcastle, and vanquished Richmond were left to lick wounds and rue a certain ingenuousness early on.

But of course it wasn't over. These two sides meet again on the last weekend of the month in what promises to be a sell-out Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter final tie at the Athletic Ground. The Clash II is likely to be every bit as entertaining as its predecessor.

Mind you Mark Evans, Saracens' director of rugby, does not reckon the outcome is assured next time. "I'd like us to win by 25 or 30 points in four weeks' time," he said, "but if we play like that again we'll be in danger of going out of the cup."

Richmond were floored with a sucker punch by Saracens in the fifth minute when Tony Diprose won a line-out. The ball was recycled via Francois Pienaar to hooker George Chuter, who battered his way just short of the line, before managing to hand on to Diprose once more and the England No 8 crashed through for the first of his two tries.

For long spells after that Richmond were forced to sit on defence until Saracens had seemingly run out of ideas and ways to break through, then it was Richmond's turn. They had a real go, sniping, harrying and hustling themselves, aided to a great extent by their outstanding scrum-half Agustin Pichot.

His speed and accuracy of delivery kept catching Saracens out. Time and again Richmond hammered holes in their opponents' defence, only to see Saracens pouring like concrete into those holes and then setting hard and quickly into a solid wall.

On the occasions that Saracens attacked, however, they too found their way blocked, in this case it was more of a vault door, albeit made of steel. Unfortunately for Richmond, Saracens had worked out the combination of the lock before the end.

Pienaar's quickly taken tap penalty, after a telling break by Ryan Constable and scrum-half Kyran Bracken had taken them close to the Richmond line, saw Diprose pouncing on the ball and launching himself through a jumble of Richmond bodies for his second try.

Richmond thundered back, but as exciting as this match had been for its red-blooded attacking, it was defending which stole the show.

Saracens were magnificent. Diprose, Pienaar and the formidable Richard Hill were just too good. As often as the brilliant Pichot would pop up a ball for the heavyweight Quinnell brothers, Scott and Craig, so there would be a black-shirted Saracen with crunching hit after shuddering collision to stop them in their tracks.

Richmond can take heart, and possibly revenge. Their director of rugby, John Kingston, said: "It'll go for us in four weeks." It most certainly isn't over yet."

Richmond: Try Fallon; Conversion Davies; Penalty Davies. Saracens: Tries Diprose 2; Conversion Lynagh; Penalty Lynagh.

Richmond: M Pini; J Fallon, A Bateman, S Cottrell (T Whitford, 16), D Chapman; A Davies, A Pichot; M McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton, C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Martin, S Quinnell, B Clarke (capt).

Saracens: M Singer (D Thompson, 80); R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace (A Olver, 11; B Reidy, 65), P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).