Rugby Union: Pienaar the powerhouse of Saracens' double drive

Richmond 30 Saracens 36
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AT THE end of an imposing performance, Francois Pienaar dashed to hospital to be at the bedside of his wife, who is expecting any day now. They know it is a boy and as he will be born in London, a Pienaar could be playing for England in the next century.

The former Springbok captain, who led his country to victory in the 1995 World Cup, is similarly inspiring Saracens. The north London club, who did not have a pot to spit in a couple of years ago, are now on course for the double.

The leaders of the Premiership go into today's semi-final draw of the Tetley's Bitter Cup following a display in which Pienaar scaled the heights. He seems to be as effective as he was three years ago, and his try, which levelled the scores at 14-14, was the signal for the Saracens pack to move into overdrive.

When Roberto Grau steamrollered over to put Saracens out of harm's way, Pienaar sealed the moment with a kiss. He planted a smacker on the unshaven cheek of the Argentinian, a passion play which tells you everything about his ambition to reach a Twickenham final.

Tony Diprose, playing his third game in a week, said: "We were tired and Francois carried the back row. I can only learn from him. Apart from his playing ability he has given us vision and self-belief."

There is no such thing as a one-man pack, but under Pienaar the Saracens eight have become an exceptional force. Richmond are no pushovers, but they were almost powerless to prevent Saracens scoring from close range.

Michael Lynagh, another World Cup veteran who is in his 16th and final season, contributed 16 points and much more, cleverly exploiting a strong wind.

Saracens have never reached the final - they got to the last four in 1977 and lost at Waterloo - and for the first time the Rugby Football Union is suggesting the semi-finals should be played at neutral venues.

Saracens prefer the luck of the draw, but of greater concern is that they are due to play Newcastle, currently second in the league but with games in hand, on 25 March, three days before the semi-finals.

Richmond would give their eye teeth to be in such a situation. Similarly transformed by a benefactor, they have nothing left to play for but self- respect.

Richmond: Tries Fallon, Chapman, Wright; Penalties A Davies 5. Saracens: Tries Pienaar, R Wallace, Grau, Botterman; Conversions Lynagh 2; Penalties Lynagh 4.

Richmond: M Pini; J Fallon (J Wright, 71), A Bateman, M Hutton (E Va'a, 3), D Chapman; A Davies, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, J Davies (D Crompton, 71), 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 (A Lee, 82), 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 (cap), R Hill.

Referee: S Piercey (Yorkshire).