Rugby Union: Johnson in command amid chaos

Saracens 33 Richmond 17
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The Independent Online
AS A MEASURE of how tight it is from mid-table to the top, Saracens shot from eighth to fourth after a moderate Allied Dunbar Premiership match at Vicarage Road yesterday.

A penalty count of 37 was not a great advertisement for the so-called liberalism of southern hemisphere referees. The Australian official, Stuart Dickinson, takes charge of Wales' Test against South Africa next Saturday and on this showing it will be more stop than start. There was none of their much-vaunted continuity, other than in the infringements. It contributed to a bitty match; scrappy, untidy and, not surprisingly, littered with errors. Chances went begging on both sides and tackles were missed by Richmond.

And they were not the only things missed. Richmond began without Scott Quinnell, who had a neck injury, and John Kingston, their director of rugby, said he thought the Wales No 8 had played his last game for the London club, with Llanelli reported to be on the brink of signing him, probably later this week.

However, as Kingston said, Richmond had not done too badly without Quinnell, until yesterday's disappointment, and while they are certain to look for a replacement they will probably not be in a hurry to do so.

There were, at least, some tries to lift the mood of the 9,217 crowd, two from Steve Ravenscroft, one from Gavin Johnson as well as a lung-bursting effort from the Richmond full-back, Earl Va'a, that came too late to change the result.

In fact, though, the match turned into something of a Johnson show, the South African playing his first game for a long time at stand-off, because Alain Penaud was laid up with a badly bruised leg.

His try was superbly worked, Tony Diprose picking up from a scrum, Kyran Bracken spinning it out and Johnson picking up a return pass from Ravenscroft before diving over close enough to the posts to make the conversion a formality.

There were some other bright spots in a half which saw Johnson land all four of his penalties. The right wing Brian Taylor, making his first start, looks like dynamite.

There were some athletes in the Saracens pack as well. England lock Danny Grewcock and the whole of the back row in particular carved swathes through any slack defending, and the tackling by the home team was at all times exemplary.

The knock-out blow came early in the second half when Ravenscroft rounded off a move and Johnson converted. Although Richmond pulled back a couple of scores through the debutant Rich Butland's boot, a penalty try after a particularly attritional 10-minute spell of three line-outs and seven scrums (all while Grewcock was kicking his heels in the sin bin for not releasing the ball at a penalty), and Va'a's try, it was too late.

Saracens: Tries Johnson, Ravenscroft 2; Conversions Johnson 3; Penalties Johnson 4. Richmond: Tries Penalty try, Va'a; Conversions Butland 2; Penalty Butland.

Saracens: M Singer; B Taylor, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; G Johnson, K Bracken (B Free, 70); B Reidy (Olver, 64), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, T Coker (P Ogilvie, 70), T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Richmond: E Va'a; N Walne, J Wright, M Dixon, S Brown; R Butland, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton (J Davies, 33), C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Hutton (L Cabannes, 68), B Clarke (capt), A Vander.

Referee: S Dickinson (Sydney, Aus).