Mapletoft kicks out Saracens

Saracens 15 London Irish 21
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The Independent Online

London Irish took a step towards a place in the Heineken Cup next season and Mark Mapletoft, who scored all their points with seven penalty goals, drew near to a climax to his career he would settle for.

London Irish took a step towards a place in the Heineken Cup next season and Mark Mapletoft, who scored all their points with seven penalty goals, drew near to a climax to his career he would settle for.

"I think this could well be my last year, full stop," said Mapletoft, who is 33. "A Twickenham final would be just the ticket to end my career." At such an age the fly-half did well to last the whole match, which had three minutes of added time in the first half and almost 10 in the second. For Irish's fans that extra time contained some heart-stopping moments as Saracens threw the kitchen sink, the washing machine and the fridge at them in an effort to give themselves a chance of nicking a win against the odds.

Not that there was any certainty they would have won if they had scored a third try, because they would still have needed to land the conversion and their fly-half Glen Jackson was the antithesis of Mapletoft and his magic boots.

Mapletoft missed just two kicks at goal but poor Jackson, a former Waikato Chief, landed a solitary first-half penalty and converted one of the Saracens tries.

"Jackson is a 90 per cent goal-kicker," explained Saracens' coach Steve Diamond, defending the decision to stick with the Kiwi rather than hand the responsibility over to Thomas Castaignède.

Mapletoft was moved to say: "I'm very surprised at Jackson missing all those kicks. Every goal-kicker is entitled to an off-day, but there is no doubt he is a quality player and goal-kicker."

An unedifying first half had little to recommend itself until the last few minutes, when Saracens clicked for only the second time in the half, punching a route up the left through the wing Ben Johnston. When the ball was recycled they moved it the other way to the hooker Matt Cairns, who swerved elegantly through the Exiles' cover and crashed over for a welcome try which was converted by Jackson.

For long periods of the second half the Irish, winners of the Cup in 2002, did all the creating, although they remained try-less, a state they have been in since the middle of December.

Not until the final quarter did Saracens fire again, putting together a spell of intense pressure. They were awarded a string of penalties and scrums until at last Taine Randell drew the cover and sent the burly Kris Chesney thudding through. Jackson naturally missed the kick, but it still left the home side in touch and set up that pulsating finale.

Saracens: Tries Cairns, Chesney; Conversion Jackson; Penalty Jackson. London Irish: Penalties Mapletoft 7.

Saracens: M Bartholomeusz; T Vaikona, T Castaignède, D Harris (K Sorrell, 49), B Johnston; G Jackson, K Bracken (M Rauluni, 79); K Yates (N Lloyd, 74), M Cairns, C Visagie, I Fullarton, H Vyvyan (capt), T Randell, B Skirving (K Chesney, 64), D Seymour.

London Irish: D Armitage; S Staniforth, G Appleford, M Catt, J Bishop; M Mapletoft, D Edwards (N Mordt, 80); N Hatley, R Russell (P Durant, 74), R Hardwick (D Wheatley, 74), R Strudwick (capt), R Casey (N Kennedy, 80), D Danaher, P Murphy, K Dawson.

Referee: S Davey (Surrey).

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