Saracens bounced back from a slow start to score eight tries and secure a victory against Connacht.
Saracens’ recent matches leading up to Christmas have shown a recurring trend – a slow start, falling behind, and then picking up momentum in the second half. While this strategy has led to victories in the past, it has not been successful in their most recent games.
In the match against Connacht, a strong recovery was seen with a dominant eight-try victory. The English champions may have been puzzled after a rare loss at home to Northampton earlier in the month, but a second defeat to the Bulls, even though it was at high altitude on the other side of the world, would have been equally disappointing. Therefore, Connacht was at risk of facing a retaliation.
Mark McCall stated that today was a positive move towards our goals. He believes that there is still much potential within our team. He also acknowledged that while our performance may have seemed slow, we still had a lot of control and possession on the field. He mentioned the importance of wearing down the opposing team, especially against a strong team like Connacht.
Connacht faced their own setbacks, conceding 40 points to Bordeaux last week while playing under their own lights in the western region of Ireland. The initial signs were not favorable for the visiting team as Juan Martín González showcased his impressive athletic abilities by catching Owen Farrell’s cross-kick and charging past his opponent to score Saracens’ first try.
Farrell, who has never before missed six kicks at goal in a game, did so in the recent loss to Northampton. Although he is highly skilled in open play, his accuracy on kicks is not as dependable at the moment. In the match, he missed five kicks (although, to be fair, he did have 11 attempts). This includes the conversion of the first try. Despite this, Farrell remains a key player for Saracens and his break from international rugby will greatly benefit the team.
The initial attempt may have caused the hosts to become overconfident. Connacht then dominated the game for the following 20 minutes. They scored two tries off of lineouts, giving them a comfortable 17-8 advantage at the half-hour mark. Bundee Aki contributed to the first try by joining a maul, while Caolin Blake took advantage of a gap in the defense after a series of carries.
It was still too soon to think about a third consecutive loss for Saracens, but these shortcomings will bother them. However, there was no sign of unease. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, they relied on their hard work, with two tries by Jamie George from lineouts giving them a 21-17 advantage going into halftime.
The first half was uneventful, but the second half saw a return to regular play. Three tries in the third quarter solidified the win. Sean Maitland scored the second try after receiving a great pass from Farrell, but it was his long run that set up Saracens’ fourth try just two minutes into the second half. Olly Hartley touched down after Alex Goode’s kick to the posts.
Cian Prendergast killed the ball after interception by George and the yellow card he saw for that facilitated Maitland’s try, number five, and another, by the long-striding Lucio Cinti just before the hour. At 43-17, that was more or less the game, but Maro Itoje was shown yellow on the hour, which helped Connacht to a well-deserved bonus point of their own.
JJ Hanrahan was recently substituted for Connacht’s leader, Jack Carty, when he spotted an opening in Saracens’ midfield and scored a try. The right side duo of Aki and Shayne Bolton set up the play. Hartley added a second try by receiving a chip pass from his teammate Nick Tompkins. However, three minutes later, Connacht secured a bonus point when Joe Joyce powered through from close distance.
In the past 10 minutes, Theo Dan completed another successful lineout, and Prendergast scored after serving time in the penalty box following Hanrahan’s interception. While not particularly exciting, the 13 tries added a festive atmosphere to the occasion.
“That bonus point will be really important,” said Peter Wilkins, Connacht’s head coach. “We need to go after these next two games. We’ve got Bristol at home and Lyon away, both great challenges, but we think we’ll have opportunities.”
Connacht’s season is not over yet as the top four from each pool advance. While Saracens have picked up momentum, they will need to improve their slow starts before the holiday season begins.