x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sarries under doctor's orders

Brendan Venter, a qualified physician, starts his reign with a fine win at Twickenham surviving a stirring fightback from London Irish.

Ernst Joubert rises highest to win a lineout for Saracens in their victory over London Irish at Twickenham on Saturday.
Ernst Joubert rises highest to win a lineout for Saracens in their victory over London Irish at Twickenham on Saturday.

Brendan Venter, a qualified physician, would have suffered a few heart-stopping moments yesterday as his Saracens side, who have a penchant for never doing things the easy way, survived a stirring fightback from London Irish to win their first game of the season in front of 60,000 fans at Twickenham. The 18-14 victory would have been particularly sweet for Venter as it came against his former club but boy did the London club make hard work it.

Cruising at 18-3 at half-time, Saracens would have been eyeing a bonus-point victory to mark the first day of the season in style but Irish bounced back from a below-par first-half performance to mount a recovery. George Stowers scored a try and Ryan Lamb and Delon Armitage, the England fullback, kicked penalties but they left eventually finished four points short. Things may have been different had Lamb, making his league debut for Irish following his summer switch from Gloucester, not missed a straight-forward penalty and a conversion.

Saracens made 12 signings of their own in the summer, including a raft of South Africans, but it was one of the old guard who provided them with their inspiration. Glen Jackson, the New Zealand fly-half, kicked two penalties, converted his own early try and created Andy Saull's score to put Sarries in command. Jackson's try was a classic piece of quick thinking from the former Waikato Chiefs pivot. Irish lock Nick Kennedy failed to roll away at a maul, and after a bout of handbags between both sets of forwards, the England international got a ticking off.

In the meantime, his side had failed to organise themselves for the resulting penalty. Most of the crowd, and indeed his teammates, were thinking Jackson was going to kick at goal but he chose to run the penalty and dummied his way over the line from 20 yards. Jackson then turned architect for the second try, sending over a crossfield kick behind a stranded defence for Saull, the highly-rated young loose forward, to ground.

Both sides were reduced to 14 men in the second half when Armitage and Schalk Brits were yellow-carded for their parts in a mini-brawl. And for a while, Saracens went down to 13 players with 20 minutes left after Ernst Joubert was cautioned. But somehow they held on to record a victory over last season's Premiership finalists. kaffleck@thenational.ae