Rugby UnIon: Lynagh puts boot into Richmond
There was a good deal of misinformation flying around at Vicarage Road last night. Richmond changed a third of their side at the last minute, while Saracens were welcomed by an embarrassingly hyperactive public address announcer as the "hometown heroes", despite the fact that they were a north London club playing in deepest Hertfordshire.
There was also some confusion as to whether the match was open to the paying customer: Sarries could probably have accommodated those few who turned up at their old Tumbledown tip at Southgate and saved themselves the hassle of shifting heart and soul to Watford.
But rugby's playing standard are in far better shape than the game's fragile economy and even though much of the expertise on view was non- English, it was still a singular pleasure to watch Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella rustle around in their bag of tricks for new ways of selling opposition midfields down the river.
Lynagh's pinpoint tactical kicking rekindled memories of many a Wallaby glory day, while Sella's passing under pressure gave Sarries' southern hemisphere wings, Ryan Constable and Brendon Daniel, early glimpses of the line.
With Francois Pienaar and Paddy Johns also producing something approaching Test form, the home side, if they could be so described, dominated the territorial argument so effortlessly that they should have been out of sight by the break.
As it was, they reached the interval no better than all square, Lynagh's brace of penalties shadowed by similar efforts from his opposite number, Adrian Davies.
Richmond had the mean defensive skills of Rolando Martin and Scott Quinnell to thank for their half-time equality, although Quinnell went a step too far with a murderous hit on Brad Free and was shown the yellow card by Brian Campsall.
Saracens were equally in the ascendant from the restart and an imaginative angled run and kick ahead from Matt Singer almost brought a try. Only Jason Wright's alert intervention from the backwater of Richmond's right wing saved the day.
It was skin of the teeth stuff from the visitors, but they flatly refused to crumble under the incessant pressure. Lynagh opened up a three-point gap with a third penalty on 58 minutes, only to see his countryman, the former Australian full-back Matthew Pini, level it once more with a pearl of a drop goal from the right touchline.
It was only in the final 10 minutes that Lynagh was able to create some distance with two further penalties, one a fine left-sided effort and the other a gimme from in front of the posts after Campsall spotted John Davies dragging down a maul.
Even then, Richmond might have snatched it at the death. Richard Hill produced some superlative stonewall defence to deny Quinnell in dangerous territory beneath the Saracens posts and when Earl Va'a, the visitors' substitute outside-half, put Spencer Brown away in injury time, Lynagh was forced to scuttle across field to make the vital try-saving tackle.
Saracens: Penalties Lynagh 5. Richmond: Penalties A Davies 2; Dropped goal: Pini.
Saracens: M Singer; B Daniel, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Constable (G Johnson, 33); M Lynagh, B Free; B Reidy (A Olver, 66), G Botterman (G Chuter, 66), P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock (A Copsey, 66), F Pienaar, A Diprose (capt), R Hill.
Richmond: M Pini; J Wright, A Bateman, S Cottrell, S Brown; A Davies (E Va'a, 74), A Moore; D Crompton (D McFarland, 53), A Cuthbert, J Davies, C Quinnell, C Gillies, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell, R Martin (A Vander, 72).
Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).
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