I had to do a swift double check that Ashley Rowden won’t be toting a whistle at the Madstad on Friday. He seems to have a hex on this fixture. Remember the cancellation furore which gave rise to it? Funnily enough I expect quite a good turnout on a Friday, if only because of the strange circumstances giving rise to it. Well, 9,500 plus.
But what a stinker to have to preview. I was initially tempted to publish once more my Preview of the nemesis game from way back in January. But surely circumstances have changed since the day of the flood that wasn’t?
I felt then that it was a question of which Sarries team turned up – and which LI team turned up, and this time around - I feel somewhat the same way!
You see, the stats tell a cautionary tale.
There is a huge temptation in a Preview to play the safety line. “Phwoor, look at who they’ve got.” We all too easily forget that our opponents are doing the same and may indeed actually be reaching the ‘phwoor’ stage themselves, as they survey their own prospects against LI - a team which has been winning against them and the odds for years. This year Saracens have snuck one back (Jan 28) but we are still drawing 1-1 from our ugly clash in the EDF in the autumn.
Just as we have to wait to see how the émigré Flutey and Everitt play against their new employers (Wasps and Saints) we also have to recall that three members of the Sarries squad are ex-LI (Laidlaw, Penney, Gustard) to our one recent recruit against (Armitage S) Revenge is sweet, they say, but never sweeter than when you have the chance to demonstrate to a former employer why they were mad to let you go.
We may still have opponents who were, and may still be the GP’s 2nd highest try scorers (Tigers just being highest) conceding fewest tries (Bristol being the deficit leaders) But they face last season’s team with the best away record, who managed also to be the highest try scorers in the GP. But that was last year, you cry, and this year is different. Yes and No. Yes to the calendar but NO to what is written on it.
The truth is that a look at Saracens is almost a look at ourselves. Their supporters evince the same moans and groans about chances chucked away and defeat culled from the jaws of impending victory. They are two spots above us, one of said spots on goal difference alone. Will their five points leave the door sufficiently ajar for us to go past them in the straight?
In the run-in, we face Sarries, Quins, Worcester and Saints. Sarries in turn have us, Wasps, Quins and Worcester. Not much change in that lot, is there?
In the last five GP matches LI have won five, Saracens have drawn one, lost one and won three. A chink? Possibly, although I note that most of our wins are not by much and Saracens tend to score big when they score at all (In the last five, see our 38-12 against Newcastle compared with their 22-9 Sale away and 36-5 against Bristol.) Both opponents are in woeful trouble these days. Our last five wins were gained against Bath, Sale, Newcastle, Bristol and Wasps.
I note however that our Fez-wearing chums in early season chalked up 55 points against Bath, 44 against Falcons and 35 against saints. This term we have struggled a bit to put together those kinds of scores, haven’t we, and of our first five GP matches LI managed only two wins.
So much for stats, if they don’t support your thesis, then. We’ll have to go back to people.
The People Factor
Here again it really is often a question of who turns up on the day. Were I to write up our probable line-ups I’d need to be guided by who is available for about half our small squad isn’t. And yet. And yet. That half is actually doing a pretty fine job in catapulting us up the table to a top six place (current – Wednesday) with five from five. Their lot only got three from five? That chink is growing, I tell you!
My focus come Saturday will mainly be on the front and back rows. At the back. ex-Sarrie Steffon Armitage has been earning some outstanding reviews for the exiles, and Richard Hill is at last managing to get in some game time since he last came to the Madstad two long years ago. I’ll bet he remembers that!
Then up front they have Cobus Visagie.
And on the bench, unless injured, they have Cobus's massively strong propping colleague Centrus Johnstone. Woops.
I am tempted to say that when you can field the world’s finest flanker and the world’s finest prop in a club XV you are doing pretty well. And yet. Look at those results dear reader, look at those results. Five from five plays three from five. Maybe it’s what they do and how they do it.
I cannot take away from the record of the theoretically exhausted and stumbling LI pick in the front. Nor with England’s new Captain pulling strings to the rear, strings attached to a current England fly half.
If the two packs look roughly even-stevens on paper, with LI fractionally ahead on points in terms of recent results, there is pace in both sets of backs, as well as tackling. Oh and an argument to settle about Andy Farrell. He came second at flanker when we played each other in January, I wonder what he’ll make of little kamikase Steffon biting his ankles at 12 this time?
You put on the bets. I’ll put ion the tea. My money is staying where it is once I have my match ticket. I do like to think we win when I attend. So I have made an investment of a kind!
Last edited by OxonRob
on Thu Mar 22, 2007 6:14 pm, edited 4 times in total.