London Irish 20 Saracens 42 match report: Saracens inspired by Jamie George as the Irish struggle begins
Sunday 08 September 2013
There are those who think that these two teams will finish the Aviva Premiership at opposite ends of the table, and yesterday at a sun-dappled Twickenham may have confirmed that. Saracens eased away without playing particularly well, though they had to wait until the final move of the match before securing the bonus-point try.
There are those, too, who believe Jamie George may be a future England hooker. George, 22, has been capped at every age group but has had to wait patiently at Saracens behind the two South Africa luminaries, Schalk Brits and John Smit. In the absence of the two Springboks, however, George seized his opportunity to make a distinct mark with two tries.
Smit has gone for good, but Brits is serving a three-week suspension for punching club colleague Owen Farrell when playing for the Barbarians against the British and Irish Lions in Hong Kong. So George will receive further chances before his dynamic little rival returns and he has to make himself hard to shift.
He has the advantage of being part of a team who know each other inside out. London Irish, yet again, come into a season after a summer of change and looked like it. For a time, of the four England wings past and present on the field, Topsy Ojo looked the best of them, but that was before a final quarter from Marland Yarde which revived memories of his trip to Argentina in June where he made his international debut.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, described his team's opening salvo as "patchy" but the basics were in place – solid scrum, good line-out, powerful runners in midfield. If three of their four tries came from front-row forwards, that should not indicate a forward-based game. Saracens are developing an all-court game, while still having a good foundation on which they will depend during mid-winter.
If the Irish are to make the most of their attacking back three, they must find greater cohesion up front. They were smashed at the scrums, lost a couple of vital line-outs and were constantly sucked into heavy-duty defence against Billy Vunipola, Ernst Joubert and Alistair Hargreaves.
The younger Vunipola could be happy with his debut, after a summer move from London Wasps. He played on the blind-side flank rather than his favoured No 8 position, but he was used in the manner of a midfield sweeper; he also showed he is learning the art of the off-load, that not every opponent needs to be crushed into the turf. He would, moreover, have been happy to see the family name on the scoresheet after brother Mako crashed over for the third Saracens try.
Then there was Farrell, knocking over the penalties that squeezed the life from the Irish. A haul of 22 points represents a good start for any kicker, half of them before the interval when George scored his two tries – the first too easily behind a line-out, the second after neat interplay with Richard Wigglesworth.
The Exiles did score a couple of tries of their own though, first David Paice flicking up the ball for Kieran Low to gallop over. Then, with Matt Stevens in the sin bin, Yarde left the ministrations of the physiotherapist just as Chris Hala'ufia steamed past him, ball in hand, and the wing took the pass to step out of Wigglesworth's cover tackle to score.
But as replacements came and went, Saracens ran two penalties deep in the opposition half in search of a fourth try. Nils Mordt gave Chris Ashton a sniff of the corner and, through the despairing tackle of Eamonn Sheridan, Ashton touched down on the line.
London Irish T Ojo; M Yarde (A Fenby, 74), G Armitage (S Geraghty, 74), E Sheridan, S Tagicakibau; I Humphreys, T O'Leary (capt; D Allinson, 74); M Parr (L Halavatau, 53), D Paice (J Stevens, 74), H Aulika (J Yapp, 65), N Rouse, B Evans, K Low (D Danaher, 67), O Treviranus, J Fisher (C Hala'ufia, 52).
Saracens C Wyles (B Ransom, 65); C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt (N Mordt, 78), D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer, 71); R Gill (M Vunipola, 52), J George (S Spurling, 78), M Stevens (P du Plessis, 78), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (Kruis, 60), B Vunipola, J Burger, E Joubert (J Wray, 60).
Referee G Garner.
Tries: Low, Yarde
Cons: Humphreys 2
Pens: Humphreys 2
Tries: George 2, M Vunipola, Ashton
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 6
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