MATCH REPORT | Vodacom Bulls - Saracens Men (ICC - Rd 1)
Saracens Men began their Investec Champions Cup campaign with a 27-16 defeat as the ruthless Vodacom Bulls were victorious at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.
The Men in Black showed an incredible amount of character to come from 27-6 down to make it a real arm-wrestle, but they were ultimately undone by some frightening attacking play from the hosts.
The Bulls started like a house on fire and came flying out of the blocks with a try after just two minutes.
The warning signs were already there when Cameron Hanekom had charged through the middle, and then from their next passage of play an outside break from Kurt-Lee Arenas put them right on the line. A huge overlap on the right saw the ball moved to David Kriel who had an easy stroll over the whitewash. Johan Goosen’s conversion gave the hosts the perfect start.
Sarries settled their nerves straight after though, a great turnover from the kick off gave Farrell a penalty attempt which he calmly slotted to make it 7-3 with six minutes played.
Alex Goode’s magical kick then put Willie le Roux under significant pressure, but the Springbok evaded him despite looking to have been in touch. His reward for that was a penalty downfield, and Goosen kicked it to make it 10-3.
Barely a minute later the Bulls thought they had scored an incredible team try finished by Elrigh Louw, but after a check upstairs a forward pass was spotted and Sarries survived.
Another penalty attempt for Goosen followed with 20 minutes gone, and he was accurate once again as the deficit grew to 10 points.
The kick chase was proving fruitful for Sarries however, and from the restart a brilliant chase from Mako Vunipola earned his side a penalty which Farrell put straight through the sticks to silence the home crowd.
The Bulls then got the chance to turn the screw as Goode was sent to the sin-bin for blocking Kurt-Lee Arendse who had chipped ahead. Stedman Gans thought he had done exactly that when he gathered a loose ball and race down the wing, but he had a foot in touch and there was more relief for the visitors.
Maro Itoje was then sent to the sin-bin for an offence right on the line, and this time Sarries were punished as Janko Swanepoel bundled over from just five metres out to stretch their advantage. Goosen’s conversion made it 20-6 to the hosts which is how it stayed until the break.
The Bulls thought they had got the second half off to the ideal start as another brilliant team score was finished by Swanepoel again, but incredibly they had a third try chalked off for a forward pass which gave the Londoners a huge lift.
They then had a five metre lineout, but a monumental turnover from Billy Vunipola got Sarries the ball back in brilliant fashion.
The pressure told though 10 minutes in to the second half, as an electric break from Arendse who had jets in his heels took them deep in to Sarries territory and then his wide pass released Canan Moodie who was never going to be caught from 20 metres out.
Billy Vunipola was then red-carded for a dangerous clearout at the ruck, but Sarries refused to roll over and gave themselves a lifeline when Elliot Daly crashed over for their first try of the evening on the hour mark.
Farrell and Goode combined brilliantly in the midfield and then passed out to the right wing, finding Daly who beat the last man and dotted down in the corner, cutting the deficit to 27-11.
Swanepoel was then sent to the sin-bin as the pressure mounted from the visitors, and the hopes of an incredible comeback grew when Theo McFarland crossed with 10 minutes remaining.
Phase after phase on the line put the defence under all kinds of stress, and then they stayed patient and found the Samoan with just one metre to go and he could use all of his athletic ability to stretch over the line. The conversion came back off the post, but now the gap was down to 11 points.
Sarries huffed and puffed with all of the expected endeavour in the closing minutes as they eyed up a losing bonus-point, but they couldn’t quite get over and had to settle for a tough defeat in Pretoria.
Watch Sarries bounce back next Saturday when Connacht head to StoneX for the next round of Champions Cup action. Click here to purchase your tickets!