Jones rages over Henson injustice while Exiles await points sentence

Saracens 35 London Welsh 14

Allianz Park

If London Welsh are in the mood for prayer – and if ever there was a time for the Exiles to prostrate themselves before the Almighty and beg for mercy, this is it – their solemn wish must be for someone, somewhere to give them an even break. The Premiership newcomers appear before a Rugby Football Union tribunal tomorrow to answer charges of fielding an incorrectly registered player in nine early-season games, and if they are as out of luck at Twickenham as they were in the northern reaches of the capital yesterday, they can kiss goodbye to their top-flight status.

No one gave Lyn Jones's side a cat's hope in Hades against Saracens, whose drive towards a second title in three seasons is gathering momentum by the week. The prospect of being docked points hung over them like a shroud and to make matters worse they were without some of the players who mean most to them: the centre Hudson Tonga'uiha, the hooker Neil Briggs and the No 8 Ed Jackson, to name but three. When Franck Montanella, their heavyweight champion of a scrummager, failed a fitness test a few hours before kick-off, they must have wondered whether the trip across town would be worth the fuss and bother.

Yet they played their hearts out, to the degree that Saracens were a mere nine points to the good as the game moved into the final quarter. Even when Will Fraser, an international back-rower in waiting who turned in another high-calibre performance, claimed the home side's third try with a quality finish in the left corner, they refused to give up the ghost. Within four minutes, Gavin Henson replied in kind for the Exiles, only to see his score ruled out by the television match official Andrew Small, who spotted some obstruction in the build-up. It was enough to make a parson swear.

Sadly for the visitors, that was not the end of it. The officials rubbed their noses even deeper in the ordure nine minutes from time when David Strettle, one of the wings in the shake-up for an England run against Italy in six days' time, cruised through a hole the size of Hertfordshire to claim an attacking bonus for Saracens.

Henson was apoplectic, and the reason was clear: he had been impeded as he led the London Welsh defensive line at the start of the move. Needless to say, Mr Small did not rule this one out, for the very good reason that the on-field referee, Luke Pearce, did not make a referral. As the old bluesmen used to sing, nobody wants to know you when you're down and out.

Jones, who has played an absolute blinder as head coach this season, tried his damnedest not to let rip over the injustice of it all, but he could not help making a point or two as the dust settled. "Saracens are the form side in this league, a side who deserve to be where they are, and if we were to take anything from the match we not only had to be on top of our own game, but also needed some things to go our way," he said. "We probably weren't on top of our game, and things definitely didn't go our way.

"Gavin's try was disallowed. OK, that's the decision. But it was also plain to see that he was obstructed in the move that led to Strettle's try. That it wasn't referred bewilders me. Also, the rulings around the tackle area were completely confusing. We were penalised early and changed what we were doing in response, only to find that in the second half everything was different again. Coaches, players… none of us is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. All we want is consistency, but there isn't any."

The player at the centre of the registration rumpus, the scrum-half Tyson Keats, played virtually the whole game – a triumph of commitment and resourcefulness at the end of what must have been a desperate few days, even though London Welsh officials have gone out of their way to insist that he was in no way to blame for whatever registration blunders were committed in his name. If, as widely expected, the Exiles are relieved of some of their hard-earned points tomorrow, he will inevitably feel terrible. They are a mere three ahead of Sale, the bottom club, and cannot afford any sort of deduction, let alone a big one.

Unusually, Keats took the field with full headgear. If this was an attempt to play the game incognito, it was not a ruse that had been properly thought through: for a start, he had his name plastered across the back of his shirt. Within minutes, the New Zealander had ditched the helmet, possibly because he no longer cared. Whatever the reason, he proceeded to give every last drop of himself to the London Welsh cause, even though he must have known from the start that it would be a losing one.

Saracens did not operate at anything like full tilt, but a couple of early penalties from Charlie Hodgson set them on their way and they were able to ride the shock of an out-of-the-blue Exiles try on 25 minutes – the Canadian right wing Phil Mackenzie started the move, the former Harlequins left wing Seb Stegmann finished it – by applying some serious muscle at the sharp end. As the heavy mob drove a maul after a clever Ernst Joubert-Steve Borthwick line-out routine, Tom Bristow dragged the thing to earth and conceded a penalty try. The prop was also shown a yellow card for his trouble.

London Welsh's resistance was always likely to be tested most relentlessly in the third quarter and sure enough, Saracens moved clear with a Joel Tomkins score eight minutes after the interval. Tomkins was put away by his fellow centre Duncan Taylor, who has a chance of breaking into the Scotland squad for this weekend's Six Nations game with Wales.

As the second half unfolded, however, it was Fraser who caught the eye most frequently. "I think he's ready for international rugby now," said the Saracens coach, Mark McCall. "Certainly, I think he'll go to Argentina with England in the summer. People forget that he's been playing in the Premiership for only 16 months; before then, he had three years of injury trouble, to the extent that we were all wondering if professional union was going to work out for him. I'm delighted with his progress. Will is a genuine open-side flanker with a full range of No 7 skills."

He is that. Watch this space.

Saracens: Tries Penalty try, Tomkins, Fraser, Strettle; Conversions Hodgson 3; Penalties Hodgson 3. London Welsh: Try Stegmann; Penalties Henson 2; Drop goal Henson.

Saracens C Wyles; J Short (B Ransom 69), J Tomkins, D Taylor (N Mordt 51), D Strettle; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N De Kock 51); R Gill (N Auterac 20), S Brits (J George 61), M Stevens (P Du Plessis 58), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (M Botha 56), J Wray, W Fraser (A Saull 66), E Joubert.

London Welsh T Arscott; P MacKenzie, S Parker, S Jewell, S Stegmann; G Henson, T Keats (A Davies 77); T Bristow (W Moss 71), G Bateman (D George 56), J Tideswell (P Ion 56), J Mills (capt), K Kulemin (M Corker 56), J Cabello Farias, M Hills, A To'oala (Moss 37-44, D Browne 59).

Referee L Pearce (RFU).


  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk