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.

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