Sarries grind out Biarritz victory
January 15, 2012
Saracens centre Brad Barritt is halted by the Biarritz defence
© Getty Images
Saracens kept alive their charge for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 20-16 victory over Biarritz at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
England new-boy Owen Farrell kept his nerve to kick Saracens to victory, landing his fifth penalty three minutes from time to seal the win.
Saracens had led 14-6 at the interval courtesy of a try from scrum-half Ben Spencer and Farrell's first three penalties before Biarritz came back at them in the second half.
Dimitri Yachvili scored all of the points for Biarritz, including a charge-down try, as the French visitors pushed Saracens to the wire and earn a losing bonus point. Saracens now need only gain a single point against Treviso next weekend to confirm their place in the last eight.
Saracens had wanted to break new ground by taking this fixture to South Africa, but a local row over which Cape Town stadium was to be used eventually scuppered the idea.
Nevertheless, Saracens certainly looked as though they had benefited from their week's warm-weather training on the Cape as they hit Biarritz with a ferocious forwards performance and some sharp backs play.
The visitors twice took the lead with penalties from Yachvili, either side of a strike from Farrell, before Saracens capitalised on a mistake to score the opening try. Yachvili tried to force a pass in midfield but the ball went to ground and Saracens counter-attacked through David Strettle, Ernst Joubert and Chris Wyles.
The American wing was halted but Spencer darted from the base of the ruck, deftly evading three tackles before diving over to push Saracens into the lead. Farrell missed with the touchline conversion but Saracens, with their pack on top and their potential England midfield of Charlie Hodgson, Brad Barritt and Farrell to the fore, kept Biarritz under pressure.
Alex Goode threatened from fullback with one break before lock Mouritz Botha, another member of England's Six Nations plans, picked off an interception and charged downfield. Strettle cut in off his wing and almost broke clear but Biarritz were penalised for being offside at the ruck and Farrell extended Saracens' lead.
The Saracens pack, with John Smit at hooker and Carlos Nieto preferred on the tight-head, were on top and won a penalty on half-way that Farrell converted to secure a 14-6 lead at the interval.
The temperature rose in the early exchanges of the second half as Biarritz threatened, working a platform for Marcelo Bosch to attempt a drop-goal which drifted just wide. Saracens' quick line speed was making life difficult for Biarritz but on the back of an improving kicking game they worked their way back downfield.
Goode collected a high ball outside his 22 but he was quickly swallowed up and Peter Stringer, who had been sent on for Spencer, saw his box kick charged down by Yachvili. The Biarritz scrum-half followed up and muscled his way ahead of Goode to touch down and then convert to bring his side back to within a single point.
Farrell eased Saracens' nerves with his fourth penalty but only briefly, with Yachvili responding in kind after Smit's high tackle on Biarritz hooker Arnaud Hegny. With three minutes remaining the Saracens centre drilled his fifth penalty to seal a tight victory.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin