Rugby Union: Pienaar leads the parade

Richmond 30 Saracens 36
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The Independent Online
SARACENS may not possess the biggest pack in England, but they are as tough as Francois Pienaar's old boots. Yesterday Saracens, with Newcastle losing at Northampton, remain the only club with the chance of achieving a League and Cup double.

Richmond, whose season has been characterised by the fact that they have been consistently inconsistent, needed a huge performance to salvage something and they nearly provided it. But Saracens, the leaders of the Premiership, deservedly went into the semi-finals of the Tetley's Bitter Cup.

If the first half was tight and tense, the second was a passion play of power and pace - and Pienaar. Saracens have never reached the final of the national knockout competition and perhaps it would be fitting if Pienaar, who lifted the World Cup for South Africa in Johannesburg in 1995, was reacquainted with some silverware.

The former Springbok captain inspired a magnificent effort from the Saracens forwards, leading the charge with an irresistible try from a tap penalty nine minutes into the second half to level the scores.

When Richard Wallace destroyed the Richmond defence, fielding a wayward clearance from Andy Moore and then feeding off Richard Hill to score a seminal try, Saracens were in full cry.

Their pack gradually took control and they surged further ahead in the 69th minute when Danny Grewcock won a line-out and the prop Roberto Grau was driven over, inevitably with Pienaar at his shoulder.

An almost identical move resulted in Saracens' fourth try, this time by the replacement hooker Gregg Botterman. With only a few minutes remaining, Saracens had established a 16-point lead and that appeared to be that until Richmond, throwing caution to the wind, showed what might have been.

They scored two extraordinary tries in injury time. First Dominic Chapman sprinted 85 yards, beating six Saracens cover defenders for pace, and then Jason Wright unleashed another long-range effort, following up his own kick ahead in the final move of the match.

Richmond led 14-9 at half-time, the difference being provided by an opportunistic try from Jim Fallon. It was not a particularly revolutionary move from a scrum, but Fallon made the most of it.

Adrian Davies moved to the short side in the 33rd minute, drew Matt Singer and gave his right wing some breathing space in what, up to then, had been a claustrophobic affair. Fallon ran straight through Michael Lynagh, knocking the Australian off his feet, and had the strength to survive last-ditch tackles from Paddy Johns and Gavin Johnson.

Playing with the wind, Richmond suffered an early blow when Mike Hutton, with his first touch of the ball in the third minute, took a heavy hit. Hutton, a doctor, immediately signalled for a stretcher. His prognosis, of course, was correct. He knew he had broken his left leg. The centre didn't miss a great deal in the first half as Davies and Lynagh exchanged penalties, three apiece.

When the sparring finished, it was the north London all-stars, rather than west London's, who predictably packed the heavier punch as both teams dropped their guard in an outlandish second half which produced 43 points.

If getting to a Twickenham final is one of Pienaar's priorities, it also occupies the ambition of Lynagh, who is playing his last season. The experience and tactical nous of the Australian veteran was invaluable to Saracens yesterday.

His kicking from hand, particularly downwind after the interval, kept Richmond on the back foot for the most part. In addition, the world's leading points scorer also contributed 16 points. If his missed tackle on Fallon was something to forget, there was plenty more in the afternoon to remember him by.

Richmond: M Pini; J Fallon (J Wright, 31), A Bateman, M Hutton (E Va'a, 3), D Chapman; A Davies, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, J Davies (D Crompton, 31), A Codling, C Gillies, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell, R Hutton.

Saracens: G Johnson (D Thompson, 77); M Singer, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken (M Olsen, 77); R Grau, G Chuter (G Botterman, 33), P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar (B Sturnham, 77), T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).