London Irish 36 Saracens 24: Man of Steel lacks appeal on first start for Saracens

Farrell far from the finished article on blindside flank
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The Independent Online

Andrew Farrell let slip through gritted teeth that he was "frustrated" at losing this Anglo-Welsh Cup match by five tries to two, but one wonders if this great competitor's most heartfelt reaction was that he was bored rigid. New challenges and an earnest commitment to the team ethos make nice soundbites. Trundling from ruck to ruck and scrum to scrum while barely touching the ball in his first start for Saracens' first XV is not how rugby league's two-time Man of Steel has lived and loved this sporting life.

Farrell has been at pains after each of his four appearances for Saracens to date - two starts for the A League team and 15 minutes as a Premiership substitute before yesterday - to make no fancy claims for himself. No one else would be wise to, either, though, clearly, with the Rugby Football Union putting up around £600,000 of his transfer fee, England have a hefty interest. They excused Farrell from training with the national side last week but he will be in Loughborough for the three-day session starting tomorrow. Beyond that, who can say? Nothing is impossible but the prospect of Faz swapping his fez for a red rose in the autumn internationals must be remote.

The report from this latest Farrell-watch is limited. Playing at blindside flanker, he stood as a putative lifter in the line-out on Saracens' throws, but they did not crop up often.

Standing off at inside centre on Irish's throw, or when Sarries had possession, Farrell's opportunities to run or kick were few, and his running lines - as pointed out by Saracens' director of rugby, Alan Gaffney - tended to be across the field. "There was no pace to the game, we never got past two phases," said the man himself. "Everyone finds it hard to get into the game when you can't keep hold of the ball." In the scrum he put his 16 stones frame in behind his loosehead prop, but got nowhere near Juan Leguizamon when the No 8 attacked the short side to score Irish's third try in the 39th minute.

Irish had gone over first in the 11th minute, when their former Ospreys scrum-half Richard Rees - in for the suspended Paul Hodgson - stepped off his right foot to scoot past Rauluni and Richard Haughton. After 31 minutes, Michael Horak burst 45 metres down Irish's left wing, cleverly evading Dan Scarbrough's tackle on the way. Saracens' first-half scores were four penalties by their fly-half, Glen Jackson, and Irish were 19-12 up at the break.

Rees scored his second try with a charge-down of Jackson's kick 18 seconds into the second half. Everitt converted and did so again when a counterattack which showed off the pace of Delon Armitage ended with a try by Riki Flutey, voted Irish's man of the match if not quite Man of Steel.

Jackson's lavish show-and-go made a 54th-minute try for the Fijian centre Kameli Ratuvou, and Saracens, with two home matches to come, still had sight of a highly valuable bonus point. It came closer when the referee, Bruce Robertson, awarded a penalty try for Irish bringing down a scrum - it seemed premature for a first offence - and Jackson's conversion cut Irish's lead to 33-24.

But an Irish attack soon after ended with Armitage taken out late by Saracens' tighthead prop, Ben Broster, who went to the sin- bin while Everitt potted three points. Farrell was withdrawn in favour of a replacement prop; just another of the many things he must adjust to in crossing codes.

Everitt pulled a penalty narrowly wide with 10 minutes remaining, and two further chances for Saracens to make their point went begging. They lost an attacking line-out close to Irish's line and a breakout led by Tomas de Vedia ought to have been finished but was not. The brand of Irish music that Terry Wogan likes to call "the auld diddley eye "was in full swing by the final whistle.

London Irish: M Horak (J Bishop, 65); D Armitage, G Tiesi, R Flutey, S Tagicakibau; B Everitt (S Geraghty, 71), R Rees; N Hatley (capt; T Lae'aetoa, 22), R Russell (D Coetzee, 51), R Skuse, N Kennedy, J Hudson (A McCullen, 61), K Roche, J Leguizamon (P Murphy, 61), O Magne (S Armitage, 61).

Saracens: D Scarbrough; R Haughton, K Ratuvou, B Johnston (K Sorrell, 55), R Penney (T de Vedia, 74); G Jackson, M Rauluni (N de Kock, 66); K Yates (capt), S Byrne (F Ongaro, 62), B Broster (T Mercey, 75), H Vyvyan, T Ryder, A Farrell (Mercey, 65-75), P Gustard, B Russell (D Seymour, 62).

Referee: B Robertson (Warwickshire).