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Sarries win in difficult opener

Longlevens RFC 8
Cheltenham Saracens RFC 12

Saracens opened their league campaign with the relatively short journey to Longford Lane hoping to rectify last week’s mistakes in the cup.

The match started as a real battle with both sides exchanging possession and territory. The first twenty minutes saw Saracens gain the slight upper hand, with the forwards working hard at the scrum and their backs looking threatening before a nasty looking rib injury saw fly-half James Butler leave the field. Lively inside centre Alex Jackson come into play, with club stalwart Jack Lawrenson moving positions to cover for Butler.

Longlevens edged their way into the game and after a series of good scum contests, were gifted a penalty. The kicker however, fluffed his lines and put the relatively easy kick wide of the mark. The resulting drop-out saw Longlevens backs run move after move and the resulting scrappy play saw a short blindside chip-kick be scooped up and tapped down over the line. Again the kicker was unable to add an extra two points and Sarries trailed by only five points.

Sarries tried to respond well but Longlevens were reacting well. The hosts were able to extend their lead when Liam Cooper was penalised at a ruck in front of the posts. The simple kick was dispatched and put Longlevens ahead by eight.

A late flurry of action in the dying moments was not enough for Saracens and they remained down by eight at the break.

Half Time: Longlevens 8-0 Saracens.

The second half started as the first had, with both teams working hard to put pressure on the other. Twenty minutes into the second half the visitors chalked the first of their points up. Scrum-half Jack Medcroft put a short kick in, turning the defence and allowing fullback Dom Richardson to pounce on the ball with fly-half Lawrenson pouncing on it just to make sure, after it had squirmed off of the legs of a defender. Medcroft’s kick was short, but Saracens had closed the gap, 8-5.

Longlevens were determined not to let the visitors back in and their backs set to work trying to unpick the blue and yellow defence but to no avail. With the scrum and lineouts starting to click for the Sarries, they kept hammering on the Longlevens’ door but were denied a chance to add more points by small mistakes.

It was another mistake, this time from the home side, that turned the scoreline on it’s head. A Longlevens penalty lineout was knocked-on, allowing Lawrenson to offload to Jackson, who spread the play with a long pass to winger Will Hewer who sprant and danced his way through the defence before offloading back to Jackson who scampered away from his man and crossed the line, before making sure he tapped down under the posts. Medcroft kept his cool, slotting the kick and adding two more points as Sarries went into the last ten minutes with the lead.

Longlevens threw everything at the visitors in the final ten minutes, running move after move but a pass directly into the referee drew a scrum, which saw Sarries pressure the Longlevens pack, and the great work of Shaun Meheran at the ruck turned the ball over. Lawrenson was tackled mid-kick, causing it to loop high but not far enough for touch. His blushes were saved however as winger, Hewer, was able to react fastest, take control of the ball and run straight off the field, bringing the game to an end.

Sarries lift cup to make it a three on the bounce

Cheltenham Saracens RFC 38
Cheltenham North RFC 14

IMG_9938On what had started as a great day, had turned into a bit of a storm as Saracens and North took to the field to contest the Cheltenham Combination Senior Cup.

North started the better of the two sides as they piled on the pressure in the early going, aiming to test the champions and were eventually rewarded through a tap penalty to which Saracens didn’t react. The try was converted, to give the visitors a seven-point lead.

Saracens reacted strongly and put their forwards to work, stringing patient phases together, testing out the North defence. These phases eventually presented North with their second try, with just over five minutes on the clock as an intercepted pass allowed the North centre to storm his way down the field and score under the posts. The kick was converted and North had dimmed the home crowd’s buzz with their 14-0 lead.


Following the restart, the match developed into a battle for possession in the midfield, with Saracens seeing the lion’s share of possession before a strong run saw prop Kierran White burst through the tackles before giving the Saracens some quick ball at the ruck which allowed strong centre, Jonah Manu, to crash through after shrugging off a tackler. Fly-half James Butler kept his cool and slotted the kick which despite dipping at the last minute, had enough on it to get over.

Saracens’ discipline gave the visitors a chance to extend their lead, but the kick for posts was not accurate enough. Less than ten minutes later, as the rain started to come down, Saracens exploited this get-out-of-jail-free-card as a penalty of their own was put into touch by Butler and captain, James McMahon, orchestrated the line-out and maul, which saw Saracens smash their way over the whitewash. Butler dispatched his kick with ease and equaled the scores as the midfield battle remained for the rest of the half.

Half Time: Saracens 14-14 North

IMG_9650With the heavens opening again at the start of the second half, Saracens picked up where they left off, maintaining the majority of possession and piling the pressure on right from the restart. They made the early momentum count, as they took the lead for the first time following a well worked move. Butler kept his kicking record and made it 21-14.

Shortly after Saracens put their forwards to work again, with the rampant driving maul doing the business against the visitors, as the pack stormed down the field and barging over the line in the atrocious conditions. Butler’s kick was on target again, extending Saracens lead to 28-14.

Saracens found themselves deep in the North half again, and encouraged by their supporters, added to their lead through another strong maul. Due to the extreme angle, Butler was unable to convert the kick but Saracens extended their lead into a commanding position, 33-14, as cheers and songs rang out from the greatly partisan crowd.

North tried to find a way back in, putting phases together and banging on the home side’s door but the well drilled Saracens defence held strong with locks Gareth Rogers and Ashley Cresswell putting in some big tackles. The final try saw Saracens feed off the supporters’ energy and after being awarded a penalty chose go to the maul from the line-  out and bulldoze their way over just left of the posts, despite North putting 13 people into the counter-maul. Despite Butler’s kick being waved wide, “There’s Only One Team In Cheltenham” rang out around King George V from the Saracens’ balcony.

The final moments saw North piling on the pressure deep in the Saracens half, making sure the Saracens worked hard. A knock-on just before the Saracens’ line gave the hosts a scrum. Scrum-half Matt Mudway picked the ball out of the back of the scrum and grounded the ball behind the Saracens’ line, killing the clock and ensuring that Saracens kept hold of the Senior Cup for the third year running.

Newspaper report here

3rds triumph over Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury 2nd XV 5
Cheltenham Saracens 3rd XV 48

Sarries travelled to Tewkesbury expecting a tough game against a well drilled opponent and worked hard to come away with the win.

The match, which started as a to-and-fro battle of possession saw the Sarries pack dominate at the scrum and chalked up their first try after turning over a Tewkesbury ruck. The hands through the backs allowed scrum-half Darryl Francis to finish off the move, receiving an offload and going over unopposed. Fly-half Mark Vaughn did the honours from the tee and Sarries found themselves 7-0 ahead with only six minutes on the clock.

Following this early try the match settled into a midfield stalemate, with both teams trading attacking and defending duties. Eventually, Sarries extended their lead after a long kick from Matt Williams stayed in play, allowing the winner to kick the bouncing ball further towards the try line and chase. The strong winger was tackled off the ball, giving Saracens a tap penalty, which resulted in a try. Vaughn again slotted the kick for another two points.

Tewkesbury mounted a real dominance, as they camped themselves in the Sarries half an ran phase after phase, patiently banging on the visitor’s door. The Sarries defence stood strong though and refused to let anything through, which saw the half finish Tewkesbury 0-14 Sarries.

The second half started with a ferocious pace, and after dominating the early phases again, the Tewkesbury forwards forced their way over the line and onto the scoreboard. The conversion attempt lacked the length, and Saracens led by nine – 5-14.

Less than ten minutes later, winger Matt Williams crashed over to extend Sarries lead. Sarries won a penalty and stormed up the field. Tewkesbury conceded another penalty and the tapped ball was popped through the hands to Williams who powered through the defence to touch down, with Vaughn adding two extra.

The restart saw both teams battling for possession and the driving Sarries’ scrum gave the backs a good platform, leading to Matt Williams bagging another try. The winger this time making a run around the outside, handing off his opposite winger and clearing the fullback. Vaughn wasn’t able to convert, but Sarries were now facing a 5-26 lead.

Literally seconds later, Sarries were back on the score sheet. A long kick from Sarries wasn’t dealt with by any of the backs, allowing for a pop pass from Paul Grayson to the on-rushing Williams to steam over under the sticks. Vaughn added an extra two points and Sarries moved 5-33 ahead.

Winger Dan Laughlin was the next to add points as Sarries found themselves deep in the Tewkesbury half again. The visiting pack got the shove on at the scrum and gave the backs a good platform. The phases lead to the winger dancing his way through and grounding just left of the posts. Vaughn was not able to convert, but the score stood at 5-38.

Right from the restarting kick, the ball found its way to winger Williams again. The number 11 ran his way into the Tewkesbury half and crashed his way through six Tewkesbury men to score again for an unconverted try.

Despite the conversion being missed, Sarries maintained their momentum. As Tewkesbury aimed to attack to get back in to the game, Williams stripped the running fullback and again charged his way through the defence to extend the lead for the visitors. The kick was not converted but Sarries thwarted a late fightback to come away with a 5-48 win!

Sarries win despite adversity

Cheltenham Saracens 34 Chipping Sodbury 3

Fourteen man Cheltenham Saracens ran roughshod over one-time fellow promotion chasers Chipping Sodbury in their final home match of the season.

IMG_4167The home side opened their account through fly-half James Butler’s penalty conversion after turning over the Sodbury ball at a ruck and counter attacking before the visitors were penalised at a ruck.

The visitors responded in kind shortly after as the hosts found themselves also penalysed at a ruck. With the score equal at 3-3, a penalty each, the match developed into a rather lively midfield battle with end to end action.

Saracens took the lead once again as Butler dispatched a penalty from the tee halfway through the first half. This spurred Sodbury into life and they aimed to play rugby in the opposition half. The visitors banged on the Sarries’ door, in search of more points. Phase after phase they approached the home side’s line, with a Sodbury player eventually trying to hurdle a tackle from scrum-half James Barrett, which resulted in a controversial red card for the Australian utility player. The controversy didn’t stop there, as just minutes later winger Andy Nicholls was almost beheaded by a high tackle which left Saracens’ fans baying for an equal red. The resulting card was yellow, and Sarries faced 10 minutes on equal footing but an extra 50 minutes with a man disadvantage.IMG_4185

Sodbury attacked again and again, as the red card had swung momentum, however some strong tackling from the well drilled home defence, constant mistakes from the Sodbury attack and a missed penalty attempt stopped the visiting side from adding any points before the break.

The second half saw Sodbury kick to Saracens, with skillful hooker Aaron Connolly making a break right through the defence after making the catch for Sarries to set phases.

The phases and the patience paid dividends as lock Gareth Rogers drove over to secure the first try of the match. Butler converted putting Sarries ahead 13-3.

The man disadvantage wasn’t showing as the home side piled on the pressure. The match developed into the previous midfield battle with end to end rugby but again Sodbury knock-ons just before the line saw them fail to close the gap.

IMG_4230Centre-turned-flanker Alex Jackson added try number two as Sarries were temporarily down to 13 men, as Rogers received treatment. The strong runner received the ball in front of the posts before a dummy and a thunderous hand-off saw him tap down under the sticks. Butler couldn’t miss, and Sarries took a 20-3 lead.

Less than ten minutes later, Sarries were at it again despite the man disadvantage. Winning a penalty at the ruck, Butler set up a lineout on the Sodbury 5m. McMahon made the catch and Sarries set the maul that had destroyed both Cirencester and Bristol Saracens in their previous two games allowing openside flanker Shaun Meheran to make it three tries in three games as he controlled the drive over the line. The difficult angle was no problem for Butler, keeping his record from the tee intact. Sarries now lead 27-3.

IMG_4305At this point Sodbury fought for everything to try and close the gap in the later stages. Phase after phase saw the visitors come so close, stopped only by a well drilled Saracens defence. Tapping a penalty, Sodbury looked to catch Sarries off guard but a monster of a tackle from the ever-physical Rogers forced the knock-on and Sarries countered, exploiting the overlap and taking it deep into the Sodbury half.

The last play of the match saw Sarries camped in the Sodbury 22m area. The pick-and-go from the forwards saw gains, allowing the backs a good platform. The bonus point win was sealed by fullback Will Hewer, who popped up on the wing to cause the overlap and barrelled over his opposite number to tap down in the left corner. Butler kept his 100% record from the tee and Saracens walked away with a 34-3 win after not conceding a single point with only 14 men.

3rds intend to finish the season in style

Bream II 14 Cheltenham Saracens 53

Cheltenham Saracens concluded their Merit table campaign with a resounding victory over the side from the Forest.

On a warm pleasant spring afternoon but on a pitch more suitable for down hill skiing, the Sarries started the game at a breathless pace. From almost the first play of the match a sweeping move from the backs saw winger Tom Wood fly over in the corner.

Tries rained in for the first 30 minutes as Dom Richardson, Dan loughlin, Martin Prosser and Woods again punished the Bream slap dash defence and with a handful conversions added by Matt Mudway the Sarries led by 31.

Now anyone who knows anything about local rugby knows you rarely travel to the Forest and get everything your own way. So to their credit the Bream boys dug deep and started to rumble forward, this eventually led to a score from close range by their wing forward, who was probably their best player on the day.

Half time 31-7

The second half continued with the Bream side dominating the pattern of play and the Sarries scratching around to find the fluency of the first thirty minutes. Bream scored again as their winger collected a bobbling ball and scorched home. Bream were now sniffing a bit of blood and fairly battered the Sarries line, but were rebuffed by determined Sarries tackling and they just couldn’t score.

After this Bream storm the Sarries regained their composure and form and counter punched the Bream effort with further tries from Gabriel Kim, Andy Lewis, Dave Holmyard and Loughlin again.

As the referee blew no side, it left the Sarries third string to reflect on a season where once again they have challenged and beaten second teams from peer clubs in the county but more importantly honoured all their fixtures a testimony to manager Paul Grayson and a sad rarity in this day and age of grass roots rugby.

Writers MoM: everyone great season boys, now for the cup.