MATCH REPORT | Saracens Men 26-43 London Irish
It wouldn’t prove to be a case of home comforts for Saracens, as London Irish ran out victors at the StoneX Stadium, despite a much-improved second half display from the hosts.
The cup is all about development and players gaining valuable minutes on the pitch. In a youthful Saracens squad, recent arrivals Tom Howe and Andrew Kitchener were given their first runouts in the black and red shirt.
Make no mistake though, this was a challenging night for this young Saracens side, but one from which they will learn a significant amount.
It was all Irish from the first minute, as they pressurised the Saracens defence, challenging the side in their own 22. With little over five minutes on the clock, the visitors kicked to the corner and looked to set the maul, with prop Facundo Gigena powering over after several strong carries from his pack.
Saracens were given a crumb of possession inside the Irish half when a kick from Logan Trotter sailed out on the fall, but there was nothing they could do to stop the next Irish score, as a flowing move saw Michael Dykes and Alex Harmes link up, before centre Tom Hitchcock cut back inside to crash over.
Saracens though, were refusing to lie down, as they began to grow into the game. Prop Jevaughn Warren and second row Alex Wardell were both showing some deft touches and strong ball carrying in the centre of the field and eventually, their efforts were reworded, as Ollie Stonham barged his way over.
This was an impressive score too, as Saracens showed patience when it mattered most, waiting for the opportunity to pounce.
This was about as good as it got in the first half though, as Irish flexed their muscles out wide.
First, wing Dykes worked the ball into space, feeding Josh Basham to race over, before adding a further score for himself moments later.
Saracens seemed unable to stop the Irish pressure and shortly after, four tries became five, as Hitchcock ghosted through a gap and offloaded to Harmes who skated in out wide.
The hosts then suffered another blow, as captain and fly-half Manu Vunipola left the field, forcing a reshuffle in the backline. Irish would take full advantage right before halftime, with Dykes latching onto an offload from Trotter to score his second, despite some strong initial breakdown work from Toby Knight.
The half-time recess seemed to do Saracens the world of good, as they came out looking fired up at the start of the second half, in a much-improved performance.
Those in attendance were given something to cheer too, as a clever cross-field kick from Tobias Elliott was collected by Francis Moore to ground out wide.
Irish though, would hit back almost immediately, as Dykes finished off another move to score his hattrick.
Despite the deficit on the scoreboard, the Saracens side continued to stick to their game, showing some real heart in defence to hold out wave after wave of Irish attack, before launching a powerful assault of their own in midfield, which challenged the Irish defensive wall.
The visitors were still looking threatening though and could have been in again, had it not been for a knock-on.
With the visitors still applying the pressure, winger Moore showed some impressive pace to track back and snuff out the danger, as his side looked to work their way out of their own 22, as they continued to keep the Irish attack at bay.
With the game entering into its final ten minutes, Saracens continued to press and probe, with a lovely inside ball from Elliott releasing Brandon Jackson, who broke free of several tackles, before the Irish defence eventually secured possession.
Replacements Samson Adejimi and Kaden Pearce-Paul added some added bulk to the side, as they stressed the Irish defensive with several hard carries, before a quickly taken penalty allowed Saracens to score their third of the night.
This was another superb score on the night, as Nathan Michelow kept the pace high, before Elliott released Moore on his inside for his second score of the night.
The visitors stayed in the hunt, as they looked for another score, but the Saracens defence held firm, as they held the ball up over the line, before winning a penalty at the breakdown.
It would be Saracens too, who would have the final say, as they secured a deserved try bonus-point through Charlie Reynolds West, as Jenson McInulty released the youngster to fly in from thirty metres, with Elliott expertly adding the extras from the far touchline.
Whilst Irish may have won out on the night, this second-half showing especially, will be one too give the Saracens youngsters great confidence.