Scruffy Saracens put to the sword

Castaignede sees yellow as Cardiff take full advantage of an undisciplined performance
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This defeat will hurt Saracens long after the bumps and bruises, of which there were many, have healed. Not that Nigel Wray's expensively- assembled squad have kissed goodbye their further progress in the Heineken Cup. Indeed, this win for Cardiff might end up ushering both teams through to the knock-out stage. But the manner in which Saracens were suckered into losing the first half 3-0 on tries, and 3-1 on yellow cards, will rankle all the way to Friday's rematch at the Arms Park.

This defeat will hurt Saracens long after the bumps and bruises, of which there were many, have healed. Not that Nigel Wray's expensively- assembled squad have kissed goodbye their further progress in the Heineken Cup. Indeed, this win for Cardiff might end up ushering both teams through to the knock-out stage. But the manner in which Saracens were suckered into losing the first half 3-0 on tries, and 3-1 on yellow cards, will rankle all the way to Friday's rematch at the Arms Park.

A crowd of just under 11,000, with Cardiff well represented by half-a-dozen coachloads from Wales, were entitled to expect something special with the leaders of the Zurich Premiership pitted against the champions and joint leaders of the Welsh/Scottish League. It was the pits all right, certainly in the first half when, but for two tries in two minutes right at the end which put Cardiff 27-9 up, neither side could feel proud of themselves.

What rare moments of quality there were came from Cardiff's former Springbok centre Pieter Muller and evergreen No 8 Emyr Lewis, but Saracens were busy playing musical chairs in the sin-bin, and never recovered.

It was Saracens' first live televised game on Grandstand. How ironic that rugby union, for so long the antithesis of the game of the masses, should be propping up the BBC's flagging flagship. The armchair millions, uninitiated or otherwise, must have wondered what the fuss over Saracens was about. Thomas Castaignÿde saw the first yellow card from his French compatriot Joel Jutge after four minutes for deliberately tossing the ball away into touch. The flimsy theory that the forced sidelining of players encourages sweetness and light among those left behind was blown apart by a thoroughly fractious half-hour or so that Jutge and his touch judge Didier Mene struggled to control. The two packs traded blows at several breakdowns, and just as Castaignÿde returned to the fray, the hooker Robbie Russell took his place, along with Cardiff's Craig Quinnell.

While this was going on, the only scoring was two penalty goals by Neil Jenkins for Cardiff to one for Saracens by Duncan McRae. Saracens paid close attention to Jenkins with a couple of late tackles, but out wide, Muller was keeping Kevin Sorrell and Ben Johnstone guessing. Muller's link after a take at the tail of the line-out by Emyr Lewis sent over the prop Andrew Lewis for the first try after 21 minutes.

Back came Quinnell and Russell, but Saracens had no taste for the 15-man game, literally or stylistically. Scott Murray was next to see yellow for a drop of the knee at a ruck, and this after the Scotland lock had returned to the side from keyhole surgery on his leg.

McRae popped over a penalty, with Castaignÿde, bravely hurling himself into rucks, hobbling at this point. Then the Frenchman landed three more points when Quinnell killed the ball and it seemed as if Saracens were emerging from their public nightmare. Then, disaster. A spot of juggling between Dan Luger and Richard Hill succeeded only in presenting Cardiff's captain, Rob Howley, with a gift of a breakaway try that Jenkins converted.

Howley had begun the psychological warfare as soon as the final whistle had blown on Cardiff's defeat of Toulouse last week, and he could not resist a smile at his good fortune. It quickly got even better when Quinnell muscled over the line after a break by Danny Baugh was supported in good numbers by Cardiff.

Two expensive spectators, the unregistered Saracens centre Tim Horan and Cardiff prop Peter Rogers, were as amazed as the rest of Vicarage Road. But Cardiff were not complaining. A knock-on by Kyran Bracken set the tone for more Saracens calamity at the start of the second half. Jenkins missed a penalty but Cardiff almost snaffled a fourth try when Johnstone slipped, only for Jamie Robinson to hack the loose ball too long.

Saracens' ability to pile up points in the latter stages of matches has frightened most of the English Premiership, not to mention Ulster here last week, but Cardiff were up to the challenge. The visitors' hands were punching the air when a wheeled scrum turned over the home side's possession in the Cardiff 22. Then Quinnell's charge caught Saracens covering back too slowly and Robinson, flat on his back, did well to deservedly put Muller over for an emphatic 32-9 lead. Sorrell scored for Saracens from broken play, with Castaignÿde converting, and Emyr Lewis became the fifth man in to the sin-bin, but catch-up rugby was not going to save Saracens. They claimed another try after 76 minutes when Bracken darted through the wreckage of a scrum, but it was not the England scrum-half's day, nor his side's.

Saracens: T Castaignÿde; B Sparg, B Johnston (D O'Mahony, 52), K Sorrell, D Luger; D McRae, K Bracken (capt); D Flatman, R Russell, P Wallace, S Murray, D Grewcock, K Chesney, T Diprose, R Hill (M Cairns, 16-26).

Cardiff: R Williams; N Walne, J Robinson, P Muller, G Thomas; N Jenkins, R Howley (capt); A Lewis, J Humphreys, S John, C Quinnell, M Voyle, D Baugh, E Lewis, M Williams (W Fyvie, 52).

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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