Rugby Union: Forearm smash bruises Bracken

Saracens 59 Swansea 29
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The Independent Online
HEAVEN HELP us when these Anglo-Welsh friendlies finally turn serious. There was all manner of mayhem at Vicarage Road yesterday: blood, guts, naked aggression, a sending off - well, the referee was dear old Fred Howard - and some top-drawer attacking rugby.

In short, a cracking afternoon at the races. "I don't think the crowd will be complaining about not getting their money's worth," said John Plumtree, the Swansea coach. "Fantastic," agreed Francois Pienaar, his Saracens counterpart.

Eleven tries and 88 points might suggest a degree of showboating from two of the more imaginative club sides currently plying their trade in the morass that passes for British professional union, but nothing could be further from the truth. This was full-on, balls-out, hang-on-to-your- hats stuff, topped off by a virtuoso, Five Nations-class display from Kyran Bracken. By the time the Welshmen caught up with him an hour into the game - one sharp forearm in the face was enough to curtail his afternoon's exercise - he had done them irreparable damage.

Shorn of their first-choice props and two-thirds of their optimum loose-forward combination, Saracens were unable to maintain the early momentum that earned them 12 points in nine minutes. Swansea hurt the Londoners in the scrummage, tore them up in the rucks and reached the interval three points to the good at 18-15, courtesy of a sharp finish from the slippery Matthew Robinson and the clearest of penalty try decisions from Howard.

Then came the Saracen flood: three tries and 19 points between the 48th and 55th minutes. Brendan Daniel on one wing, the debutant Barry Lea on the other and Bracken up the middle all made their mark on the scoreboard and Swan-sea's frustration was such that Dean Thomas, a back row replacement for Paul Moriarty, could think of nothing better to do than smash an elbow into George Chuter's face. Thomas had been on the field a whole nine minutes when Howard politely invited him to get back off again.

The remainder of the match belonged to a 19-year-old full-back from Redruth by the name of Rob Thirlby, who stroked over two conversions and a penalty with all the aplomb of a Michael Lynagh and also left the Swansea cover for dead with a glorious helter-skelter sprint to the left corner. "We need to work on his positioning, but he can run and kick like you'd never believe," smiled Pienaar. The best part of 6,000 Saracens supporters believe it already.

Saracens: Tries Daniel 2, Ravenscroft, Ogilvie, Lea, Bracken, Hill, Thirlby; Conversions Johnson 3, Thirlby 2; Penalties Thirlby 2, Johnson. Swansea: Tries Robinson, Penalty Try, Weatherley; Conversion Davies; Penalties Davies 4.

Saracens: G Johnson (R Thirlby, 64); B Lea, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; A Penaud, K Bracken (capt, M Olsen, 59); B Reidy, G Chuter, A Olver (D Flatman, 70), C Yandell (P Johns, 30), D Grewcock, P Ogilvie, B Cole (A Diprose, h-t), R Hill.

Swansea: D Weatherley; R Rees, M Taylor, S Gibbs (capt, C Van Rensburg, 75), M Robinson; L Davies (A Lawson, 78), R Jones; D Morris, G Jenkins, C Anthony (B Evans, 75), T Maullin (A Moore, 42), P Arnold, P Moriarty (D Thomas, 56), L Jones, C Charvis.

Referee: F Howard (Liverpool).