Saracens spoil Henson debut
October 7, 2012
Charlie Hodgson steers Saracens past London Welsh
Saracens ensured that there would be no fairytale start to Gavin Henson's career with London Welsh as they defeated their Premiership rivals 28-23 at the Kassam Stadium.
Even so Henson only needed eight minutes to open his scoring account for his new club. Canada international Phil MacIntye swept on a loose pass from Charlie Hodgson to kick ahead and dive over at the posts, with Henson converting. However, Hodgson replied with a try of his own and he pulled the strings for the rest of the match.
Henson kept the Exiles in contention with his boot and with six minutes remaining Tom Arscott raced over for a try to pull London Welsh to within two points, while the conversion took Henson's total for the match to 18 points. Another Hodgson penalty put Saracens out of reach and their pack stood firm as London Welsh attacked from a series of scrums after the final whistle.
The 30-year-old double Grand Slam-winning Welshman's first Premiership appearance for the newly-promoted Exiles had been delayed after he fractured his cheekbone in a pre-season match against former club Scarlets. But Henson, called up in place of former Scotland international Gordon Ross, made his mark with an assured performance for Welsh.
They were dealt an early blow when lock Matt Corker was yellow-carded in the fourth minute as their pack desperately tried to disrupt a series of forward drives by Saracens. But, three minutes later, they broke out of defence to take the lead, totally against the run of the early play.
Charlie Hodgson scored all Saracens' points as they beat London Welsh © Getty Images
Just inside the opposing half, MacKenzie kicked a loose ball deep into Saracens territory and won the race to collect and cross the line, leaving Henson a simple first conversion for his new club. The fly-half attempted to capitalise with a penalty kick from inside his own half but his effort fell just short.
Welsh were conceding a serious number of penalties and Hodgson, after striking the post from 50 metres in the 10th minute, pulled back three points with a straightforward kick from the 22-metre line five minutes later.
The almost constant pressure of the visitors finally forced the hard-pressed Welsh defence to crack in the 18th minute when Hodgson took a short pass from scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, stepped inside and raced over between the posts before adding the conversion.
Hodgson stretched the lead with a penalty from 48 metres but, within two minutes, Henson cancelled it out when Sarries strayed offside 40 metres from their posts. But Hodgson struck two more penalties before half-time, with Henson pulling another back to restrict the visitors to a 19-13 lead at the interval.
Another burst through the Welsh defence by Hodgson should have resulted in a second try for Saracens but Andy Saull let the ball slip from his grasp as he stretched for the line.
Two more penalties from Hodgson increased Saracens' lead to 25-13 before Henson kicked his third penalty in the 60th minute.
But Welsh never gave up and they scored a second try when left-wing Nick Scott made a superb break from the halfway line before passing inside to full-back Arscott, who raced clear of the Saracens defence, cut inside and touched down behind the posts to leave Henson a simple conversion.
Hodgson landed his seventh penalty four minutes from time but it was not enough to deny the Exiles the hard-fought consolation point they deserved for their never-say-die efforts.
They finished the match driving the Saracens pack back towards their own line to force a penalty. They elected to pack down and scrum-half Tyson Keats tried a burst down the short side but was dragged down just short of the line. Saracens were forced to defend desperately but, despite conceding three penalties, they survived a series of late drives by the home forwards to hang on to their lead.
The ESPN panel analyse Sarries' hard-fought win over the Exiles
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was a relieved man after he had watched his defence stand firm in the face of a continued assault on their line after the full-time whistle, but felt his team deserved the win.
"I think for an hour or 65 minutes we were clearly the better team. We had a few chances and had we scored then we would have been more comfortable, but London Welsh showed their fighting quality and made life difficult. We're pleased though. We played well for 65 minutes and held on for the win."
For London Welsh coach Lyn Jones there was delight that his star summer signing had finally got round to making his debut, after being sidelined with injury earlier in the season.
"I thought for his first game back in God knows how long, his performance was very good," Jones said. "He was hugely influential. To play as badly as we did and come away with a losing bonus point is a plus. Saracens are a quality side and they played very well today."
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