Rugby Union: Saracens try to move closer

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The Independent Online
Saracens. .6

Orrell. . .9

LABELLING is such a fact of sporting life that Saracens and unfashionable are almost as inseparable as David Gower and laid back. London's top club last season will never, so the myth goes, be regarded in the same reverential light as the Harlequins and Wasps of this world, let alone the Baths.

The established view of Saracens has it that they are rugby's Wimbledon football club. Their ground is tatty, their off-field facilities are not up to scratch and their side is an awkward bunch of spoiling, non-creative killjoys. Guilt on charges one and two is mitigated only by the atmosphere in the clubhouse afterwards - a throwback to pre-league days. But the third is dangerously wide of the mark.

Treat Saracens as poor relations on the pitch and you will come badly unstuck, as Orrell very nearly did. 'We are,' the Saracens coach, John Davies said, pinching thumb and forefinger together, 'this close to being a very good side.' And he has a point.

For 20 minutes in the second half, when Saracens suddenly reverted to the game plan they had been working on all week but had ignored virtually from the whistle, they ran Orrell tantalisingly close to ragged. Davies explained why they not been able to add the final touch. 'We are having a bit of problem with second phase at the moment.' Not to mention third, fourth and fifth.

In one frantic spell Saracens won five excellent loose possessions in quick succession in Orrell's 22, but their organisation of the ball was such that each time they were faced with more than 10 Orrell defenders. Credit to Orrell's defence, certainly, but questions also about Saracens' failure to tie potential tacklers up in mauls before spinning the ball out.

Davies had wanted Saracens to stretch Orrell by running at them from the start. The 'unfashionable' club has one of the more exciting back lines and a back row which is the equal of any in the country. Anthony Diprose, of England Under-21s, made a league debut which showed that no one has been laid off on the Saracens' No 8 production line.

Orrell wanted things altogether more controlled and, thanks to their unshakeable power up front, spent most of the first 50 minutes in Saracens' territory. But on a foul day, and against as good a back-foot side as there is, they found clear sights of the try-line few and far between. Ultimately they needed a piece of silliness from Saracens - an unwise word - to take the decisive lead 10 minutes from time when Gerry Ainscough landed his third penalty.

Two wins from two starts leave last year's runners-up as one of only three unbeaten sides, and although they are some way yet from being the irresistible force of last season, enough remains to trouble most of the title contenders.

Saracens: Penalties Rudling 2. Orrell: Penalties Ainscough 3.

Saracens: C Dossett; M Gregory, J Buckton, D Dooley, D O'Leary; B Rudling, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, L Adamson, C Tarbuck, A Diprose, J Cassell.

Orrell: S Taberner (capt); N Helsop, S Langford, M Fielden, P Hamer; G Ainscough, D Morris; M Hynes, N Hitchen, M Ridehalgh, S Bibby, C Brierley, P Manley, S Gallagher, N Ashurst.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bath).