Rugby Union: Forest fire snuffed out by steel of Saracens

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The Independent Online
Lydney 0 Saracens 40

DENNIS POTTER obviously knew something when he described his Forest of Dean homestead as the "blue remembered hills"; to be sure, Saracens are unlikely to forget their fleeting visit to Gloucestershire's border country, where men are men and the sidestep is considered unforgiveably effeminate. Twenty seconds into yesterday's Tetley's Bitter Cup tie at Regentsholme, it was off at all meetings: fists, boots, foreheads, the lot. Wonderful, heart-warming stuff.

Saracens would occasionally punctuate the real business of the afternoon with the odd try, but generally speaking it was a hairy old contest. At one point, Paddy Johns appeared to be taking on all comers; that is to say, the Lydney crowd as well as the Lydney pack. Potter would, on reflection, have been more accurate had he talked about the "black and blue remembered hills".

Johns was allegedly attacked by a supporter, confirming after the game that he was "grabbed by the throat" during a second-half fracas.

As recently as three years ago a draw like this would have raised the genuine prospect of a turn-up. London sides, in particular, were considered fair game by the hill people of the West Country, who licked their lips with cannibalistic intent whenever they caught sight of a pampered Wasp or a mollycoddled Harlequin. Big money has changed the world, though; Lydney probably realised they were on their way out of the competition the moment Saracens followed them out of the hat.

But they gave it a rip all the same. They had a tidy back row, in which Scott Edwards showed some useful touches at No 8, and enough raw spirit to sink the proverbial battleship. They mauled magnificently, frequently stopping their bigger, richer and decidedly better looking professional opponents in their tracks and often pinched the put-in at the scrum for good measure. The good news ended there, though. They were comprehensively dismantled at the set-piece, the platform from which Tony Diprose caused the home side all manner of grief.

Those who insist that the former England No 8 is no good in a fight are badly mistaken. He took everything that was coming to him yesterday and then came back for more, leading the Saracens close-quarter drives with pace, power and no little passion. He deserved his game-clinching try 15 minutes into the second half - Brendon Daniel and George Chuter had beaten him onto the scoresheet in the first period - and his sure hands and craftily-angled passes were too much for Lydney to comprehend.

Indeed, Diprose's clean-cut strike at the posts removed whatever wind was left in the local sails; within two minutes, the equally combative Kyran Bracken was over from another driving scrum and there were final- quarter tries for both Ben Cole and Daniel. But if the result was never in doubt, neither was the cheerfully pugilistic spirit in which the game was played. Who would have it otherwise?

Saracens: Tries Daniel 2, Chuter, Diprose, Bracken, Cole; Conversions: Johnson 4, Thirlby.

Lydney: N Paisley; A Bennett (D Bendall 72), L Osborne (L Smith 40), L Meek, C Dunlop; J Davis (N Merrett 76), R Turner; N Bartlett (capt), N Nelmes (P Price 48), G Williams (A Jarrett 54), J Roberts, N Kilby (J Bashford 76), N Burnett (P Hudson 43), S Edwards, D Edwards.

Saracens: G Johnson (R Thirlby 63); B Lea (M Singer 67), R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; A Penaud (capt), K Bracken (M Olsen 67); A Olver (R Grau 67), G Chuter (G Botterman 67), B Reidy, P Johns, K Chesney, F Pienaar (P Ogilvie 63), A Diprose (B Cole 67), R Hill.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).