Rugby Union: Saracens a league apart

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The Independent Online
Reading 3

Saracens 41

In the romantic script, Third Division Reading were meant to upset the professionals by drumming Saracens out of the Cup. But the Minnows discovered that in the real world they get eaten without mercy. Star-studded Saracens devoured Reading with barely a blink.

Reading displayed much spirit, a mountain of courage and a determination to fight on until the end. They defended heroically, never shirking a tackle, and the pack was fearless, occasionally winning loose ball that ought to have gone Saracens' way.

But it could never be enough against the strength of a side accumulated by a multi-millionaire and showing skills from all quarters of the globe. Saracens had the strength, speed, and skill. They were a league apart.

After 80 minutes at a wind-swept Holme Park outside Reading, Saracens had scored seven tries to none, with Michael Lynagh converting three, all against a solitary penalty from scrum-half Andre Bachelet. The statistics told the truth of the game.

The floodgates opened after nine minutes. Reading had shown pluck from the start but couldn't match the smoothness of the Saracens' back division as it switched the ball back and forth across the park. With Reading stretched, the Saracens full-back Andy Tunningley sliced through.

And that was enough to wake Reading from any dream they might have had of glorious progression. Under increasing pressure, their passes got wilder. Saracens moved into gear in the pack, rolling a maul over for a try, with the Irish international Paul Wallace grounding the ball.

To ring the changes, Saracens then moved the ball swiftly from hand to hand in the backs, carving open a gap for the left-wing Muna Ebongalame to cross. As if to underline their total dominance, the pack then drove a scrum over to win a penalty try when Reading collapsed it.

Saracens started the second half in the same dominant fashion, with the centre Philippe Sella scorching half the pitch to free Ebongalame for his second try.

With the game lost, Reading pulled themselves together, kicking their penalty after a spell on the Saracens' line. It was no more than consolation. Tries from the Saracens winger Brimah Kebbie and scrum-half Kyran Bracken hammered the final nails in.

In rugby union, real underdogs rarely win. In the new era, such victories will be rarer still - as Reading discovered yesterday.

Reading: L Fanning (capt); P Hopkins, M Scharrenberg, D Barrett, T Ellis; J Costeloe, A Bachelet; P Guttridge, S Perkin, G Anstead, M Vatcher, R Dow, P Neary (G Sparks, 72), M Hart, I Armstrong.

Saracens: A Tunningley; B Kebbie, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, M Ebongalame; M Lynagh, K Bracken; A Olver, C Olney, P Wallace, P Johns, T Copsey, G Clark, A Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).