MATCH REPORT | London Irish 29-20 Saracens Men
Saracens Men suffered a 29-20 defeat to London Irish on their first trip the Brentford Community Stadium despite a spirited second half display which very nearly saw them snatch victory.
The Men in Black trailed 21-0 at the break but sprung in to life after the break with two tries from Ben Harris and one from Rotimi Segun which almost saw them complete a memorable comeback.
A lively opening from Sarries under the lights led to an early chance for Segun after Theo McFarland’s audacious offload set him free on the wing, but as he stepped infield the Irish defence got back just in time.
With 16 minutes gone Irish opened the scoring and it came courtesy of Ollie Hassell-Collins. A big break in the midfield saw Matt Williams brought down just short but the ball spat out of the breakdown straight in to the wingers hands who slid over from close range. Rory Jennings’ conversion gave his side a 7-0 advantage.
Irish were starting to dominate and it showed at the end of the first quarter as Elliott Obatoyinbo was sent to the sin-bin. Ben White dummied and his inside pass went forward off our full-back which was deemed as a yellow card offence.
Their extra man paid dividends straight away as Terrence Hepetema went over for their second try. They opted for a scrum and spun it straight to the centre who crashed over from just a metre out. The conversion meant Sarries trailed by 14 points with 22 minutes gone.
The Men in Black were struggling to gain any territory and it got worse for them on the half-hour mark as Irish crossed for their third try. A sequence of penalties took them in to the 22, and from the rolling maul Steve Mafi rumbled over to increase their lead further.
Sarries dug in for the remainder of the first half and ensured that the damage wasn’t irreversible, as the teams went down the tunnel after a challenging opening 40 minutes for the visitors.
Kelly Brown’s side started the second half with much more intensity and almost reaped the reward when Ben Harris made a half break from an inside pass but as it had done all night so far, the Irish defence proved strong enough to deal with the attack.
Sarries then got themselves on the board with their first try of the evening 10 minutes after the restart. Again they looked much more lively in possession, and Manu Vunipola’s looping pass out wide found Rotimi Segun who marked his 50th appearance for the club with a try in the corner. The conversion came back off the post, but the deficit was now down to 16 points.
Just as it looked as if Sarries were gaining some momentum in their attempt of a comeback Irish then struck against the run of play to reassert their dominance. They won a scrum against the head in the 22 and from there had multiple carries towards the line, eventually allowing Cillian Redmond to squeeze over right by the touchline.
Sarries refused to lie down and just before the hour scored again as they looked to get back in to the game. They patiently edged towards the line, and then again Vunipola’s perfectly weighted pass ended up with Harris who had a clear stroll over the whitewash. The conversion was inch-perfect as the visitors entered double figures.
The comeback then drew closer as Harris went over for his second in the space of five minutes to bring the game right back in to life. Brandon Jackson’s superb break saw him enter the 22 and then the ball was quickly recycled by Ruben de Haas, wide to Harris who dived over again. The kick went wide, but the deficit was now just nine points.
The pressure was getting the hosts who then kicked a ball dead, giving Sarries a scrum just outside their 22. A golden opportunity for the bonus point followed as Andy Christie stretched out to score but in the process of placing the ball it agonisingly went forward.
Luckily we came back for an earlier infringement, and Vunipola kicked the penalty through the posts to make it 26-20 with 10 minutes remaining.
Frustratingly for the visitors Irish then got a penalty from the restart, but to add to the drama it came back off the post and Sarries went on the attack.
The comeback was so close to a sensational climax when Harris sprinted on to Vunipiola’s cross-field kick and stepped in to the 22, but when play continued Irish got over the ball and won the turnover.
In the closing stages Irish managed to steal a turnover which got them a penalty, and Jennings kicked it to edge them out of scoring range, sealing a 29-20 victory for the hosts in Brentford.