Farrell rises above confusion up front
Saracens 15 London Irish 11
There is just a chance that rugby's law-breakers will shorten the so-called "scrum cadence": all the crouching, touching, pausing and heavy petting that goes on before the engagement and invariably ends with an exchange of phone numbers between the rival props and a penalty to one side or the other. Pray God it happens.
Yesterday's game at Vicarage Road between two of the Premiership's hardest-working, best-prepared sides disappeared into the dark depths of what amounted to a single set-piece, leaving the crowd – what there was of it – wondering whether an afternoon in front of the telly might have been more rewarding. What started as a high-quality contest at the sharp end featuring four very good props went wrong well before the interval and continued to go downhill in the second 40 minutes, denying both teams a platform. Alex Corbisiero, the young England loose-head specialist, is an undemonstrative sort, but he spent the best part of an hour looking utterly bemused before being replaced by a New Zealand Test forward in Clarke Dermody, who was every bit as baffled in next to no time.
"Saturday night, 9pm: that's when all the numbers come out, isn't it?" asked Toby Booth, the Exiles head coach, suggesting the officiating of the scrum was no more predictable than a lottery. "Actually, I don't have a problem with the cadence itself. It allows people to be accurate in what they're doing. What we need are officials who work better as a team of three, because one man can't have eyes everywhere. We're in the business of trying to get a game going, but there are times..."
What he wanted to say without quite saying it was that deadbeat matches like this are counter-productive in terms of building the audience for club rugby. Not that it was a complete turn-off for the connoisseur. There was much to admire, yet again, in the way the Saracens outside-half Owen Farrell went about things. Indeed, without his goal-kicking prowess and general enthusiasm, the champions would undoubtedly have lost. The Exiles also had their star turns, notably second-rower Matt Garvey, whose 40-metre rampage midway through the opening quarter was merely the most striking of his many contributions.
London Irish really should have capitalised when the 24-year-old forward made monkeys of both Carlos Nieto and Ben Spencer in open field before smashing James Short out of the road with a hand-off and giving his backs heaven-sent position deep in the Sarries 22. Sadly for them, all they gained from the incident was a temporary numerical advantage, former Springboks captain John Smit packed off to the cooler for burgling the ruck.
"Look at the locks out there today: there were three internationals and Matt, and I don't think anyone would argue that he wasn't the best of them," Booth remarked. "He constantly offered himself as a carrier, made an impact and looked the epitome of the modern second-row."
It was Garvey's partner in the boilerhouse, Nick Kennedy, who should have opened the try-count before half-time when, after Jonathan Spratt cottoned onto a fortunate ricochet down the left, he drove to within an inch of the line – he had only to stretch out his left arm. Instead, he chose to continue the attack by setting up a ruck – leading to a Saracens penalty rather than a score for his own side.
If the champions themselves, expected to sign the veteran Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer from Munster today, went frustratingly close on two occasions – Farrell's chips almost led to tries for Short and Ernst Joubert – they at least managed to land their kicks, opening up a 15-6 lead as the clock ticked down to single figures. Yet, as per usual, the Exiles found a way of taking something from the contest when David Paice, their substitute hooker, made the line from a driving maul.
Scorers: Saracens: Penalties Farrell 5. London Irish: Try Paice. Penalties Homer, Bowden.
Saracens: A Goode; J Maddock (D Strettle, 5), C Wyles, A Powell, J Short (D Taylor, 68); O Farrell, B Spencer; M Stevens, J Smit (J George, 55), C Nieto (R Gill, 48), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 50), J Wray (George, 13-19), A Saull, E Joubert.
London Irish: T Homer (G Armitage, h-t); T Ojo, J Ansbro, J Spratt, A Thompstone; D Bowden (capt), P Hodgson (DAllinson, 50); A Corbisiero (C Dermody, 52), J Buckland (D Paice, 50), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 52), N Kennedy (B Evans, 50), M Garvey, D Danaher, J Gibson, C Hala'ufia (O Treviranus, 69).
Referee A Small (London).
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
sportNapoli 2 Arsenal 0: Gunners must now face either Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in knock-out stages
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute
- 3 Kenyan politician Mike Sonko left red-faced after photoshopping himself next to Nelson Mandela
- 5 Selfie at funeral: Cameron squeezes in on Obama snap at Mandela memorial