England must hope to benefit from a little of Saracens' style
Saracens 31 Ospreys 26
Andrew Farrell, the Saracens first-team coach who is soon to be seconded to England for the two months of the Six Nations Championship, let it be known the other day that he would not transplant his club's back-play to the national team. What the Wiganer meant was that England would instigate their own plan of attack, framed by Farrell in conjunction with the interim boss Stuart Lancaster; but such was Saracens' style in this valuable Heineken Cup pool win that a little of it rubbing off on the red rose would not go amiss.
Intriguingly, the man at the heart of Sarries' dashing use of the wide channels was Charlie Hodgson, the former Sale fly-half long since considered only an emergency back-up by his country. When Hodgson went off in the second half it left Farrell's son, Owen, in the pivotal position. The 20-year-old is a hot tip for England selection and he kicks the ball a mile but his range of passing and vision is not yet the equal of Hodgson.
Farrell junior also assisted Ospreys in earning a precious bonus point by going to the sin-bin in the 49th minute for a body-check on Dan Biggar. The score was 28-16 to Sarries at the time; in Farrell's absence Ospreys' full-back Richard Fussell made a second try for the 21-year-old centre Ashley Beck and reduce the gap to five points, which was how it finished.
"You feel like you've let your team-mates down when there's one less player on the pitch in such a big game," said Farrell, who started at outside centre. "We played our best rugby of the year in the first 50 minutes. Our scrums and driving mauls kept us on the front foot and we were happy to play off that." Of his father's appointment, he said diplomatically: "It's a massive achievement for him and I hope he does really well."
The pick of Saracens' three tries was Chris Wyles's five minutes into the second half. From a line-out catch on the Ospreys 22, Hodgson's maintenance of a high tempo ended with Schalk Brits's sumptuous inside pass to Wyles. It will be a searching test of Saracens' squad strength to gain the points they need to qualify for the quarter-finals from trips to Swansea on Friday night and Treviso in January, either side of a home match with Biarritz, while continuing to challenge in the Premiership.
Still in these exciting times on the field they cannot resist a grumble.The Wembley attendance on Saturday was 6,000 higher than the day's other five Heineken Cup matches put together. But the Saracens chairman, Nigel Wray, wrote in his programme notes that "there are not enough people watching the game at the club level to make it economic". Wray argued that Premiership Rugby (the 12 top-flight clubs) should employ the referees directly to improve their performance and attract supporters, which is either an inevitable next step in the development of the professional game or the biggest clutching at straws since the invention of the milk shake.
Scorers: Saracens - Tries: Gill, Wyles, Joubert; Conversions: Farrell 2; Penalties:: Farrell 4. Ospreys - Tries:: Beck 2; Conversions:: Biggar 2; Penalties: Biggar 4.
Saracens: A Goode; D Strettle, O Farrell, B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson (J Short 58), B Spencer (P Stringer 58); R Gill (D Carstens 73, M Stevens 80), S Brits (J George 48), M Stevens (C Nieto 65), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis 58), K Brown, J Burger (A Saull 65), E Joubert.
Ospreys: R Fussell; T Bowe, A Bishop, A Beck, S Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; D Jones (R Bevington 46), R Hibbard (H Bennett 46), A Jones, R Jones, J Thomas, T Smith (capt, I Gough 52), J Tipuric, J Bearman (G Stowers 56).
Referee: P Gaüzère (France).
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