Rugby Union: Saracens' youngsters reveal their potential

Saracens 36 Cardiff 22
ON THE evidence of the interest shown by the crowd and the intensity with which this Anglo-Welsh match was played there is a future for cross- border competition whatever anyone else may say.

But it is unlikely that the future will hold anything for a Cardiff- Bedford amalgam or merger, despite the Midland club's owner, Frank Warren, dropping as broad a hint as he could that he would be open to approaches from the Welsh side.

Gareth Davies, the Cardiff chief executive, said after watching his side lose an absorbing match: "When we were in difficulties last year we had talks with Bedford, but nothing came of them.

"This year no one in the Cardiff club has spoken to Frank Warren. There has been no approach. I heard Frank on the radio and I think it is just Frank telling the world that Bedford would be interested in offers."

The only thing Cardiff were interested in at chilly Watford yesterday was a win. But it was not to be. They did not really look threatening enough for long enough and were outscored by five tries to three and early on did not provide enough muscle up front to provide any sort of platform of possession for their talented set of backs to use.

For their part Saracens were eager to avenge a drubbing at the Arms Park last September and there were one or two younger players with things to prove. There was also Kyran Bracken's return to action following a compulsory three-week lay-off after he was concussed against London Scottish.

The England scrum-half came through a testing afternoon extremely well and could also take credit, indirectly, for 11 of Saracens' points. They were scored by first-team debutant Rob Thirlby, a 19-year-old Cornishman.

He was signed in the summer at a meeting by the M4 by Saracens' director of rugby, Mark Evans, who confessed: "I signed him without having seen him play. He was originally going to join Bedford or Worcester, but Kyran spotted him in the Safari Sevens tournament in Kenya and said I had to sign him, so I did. The only other player Kyran has recommended is Danny Grewcock, so I reckoned I could trust him."

Thirlby took over the kicking duties when Alain Penaud failed badly with his opening two attempts and the right wing stepped up without a tremor and knocked over four conversions and a penalty. Another newcomer, Ben Cole at No 8, also demonstrated that Saracens have not lost their knack for back-row discoveries.

Cardiff do not travel well in this unofficial series, they have now suffered seven defeats in 18 outings and all have been away from home. Although they looked slick in the backs at times, Liam Botham's try - Cardiff's third and last one - was as much the result of deft and swift handling as it was to the forwards who had provided the platform.

Perhaps if the Cardiff forwards had produced the sort of performance they delivered in the second half then it might have been different. As it was Saracens showed more enterprise in every department. George Chuter, with two tries, and Paddy Johns benefited from the pack's unstoppable driving at line-outs and from sharp thinking in the backs, who contributed tries through Penaud and Ryan Constable.

Saracens: Tries Chuter 2, Penaud, Johns, Constable; Conversions Thirlby 4; Penalty Thirlby. Cardiff: Tries Morgan, O Williams, Botham; Conversion Jarvis; Penalty Jarvis.

Saracens: D Thompson; R Thirlby, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel (M Singer, 53); A Penaud, K Bracken; A Olver (B Reidy, 73), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns (capt), D Grewcock, P Ogilvie, B Cole (A Bennett 14- 21, 74), R Hill.

Cardiff: C Morgan; L Botham, L Davies, M Wintle, S Hill; L Jarvis, R Howley; A Lewis (S John, 53), D Geraghty, D Young (capt), S Moore, D Jones (J Tait, h-t), O Williams, G Kacala, P Williams (S Williams, h-t).

Referee: P Bolland (Newport).