Fixture: Saracens v London Irish
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 8
Date: Saturday 6th November 2021
Stadium: StoneX Stadium
London Irish make the short journey to the north of the capital in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership, taking on Mark McCall’s Saracens at the StoneX Stadium.
Saracens’ sabbatical from the top-tier of English rugby lasted just a season and they’re certainly making up for lost time, currently ranked second on form in the division, winning each of their last four games, which has sent them into second spot in the early-season standings.
Alongside incomings such as Ivan van Zyl, McCall has benefited from the return of loanees that plied their trade elsewhere last term, namely Ben Earl, Alex Lozowski and leading try scorer Max Malins.
The latest of Sarries’ victories saw them overcome Billy Millard’s Harlequins at The Stoop on Sunday, as Jackson Wray’s try capped off a turnaround in the latter stages of a thrilling match that finished 29-22.
A day earlier, Irish’s five tries at the Brentford Community Stadium could not outdo Bristol Bears own quintuple in Round 7, with Callum Sheedy’s accuracy from the tee proving the difference in a 45-33 final scoreline in the visitors favour.
The boss – Mark McCall
Mark McCall is currently the second-longest serving Director of Rugby in the Premiership, behind Exeter Chiefs’ Rob Baxter, after undertaking the role at Vicarage Road during the 2010/11 season.
The Irishman is nonetheless the most decorated boss in the league, having won five Premiership titles, three Champions Cups, an LV Cup and last season’s Greene King IPA Championship added to his extensive résumé.
As a player, the former centre pulled on the Exiles’ green and white jersey whilst also representing his native Ulster, before going on to win the province’s first Celtic League in his first club coaching role.
One to Watch – Alex Lozowski
The Men in Black’s utility back, Alex Lozowski, has a proven track record of filling in where required over the years, starting as both an inside and outside centre already this term, but it’s in his recent outings at fly-half that have seen him excel.
Lozowski has put in two Man-of-the-Match displays as a 10 – the latest of which was his 19-point return over Harlequins last weekend.
Saracens’ 26-9 opening night win over Bristol Bears was heavily indebted to the 100% accuracy from Lozowski’s boot, with his seven penalties and 21 points the highest individual total of each in a match to date so far this season.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 33, Saracens 16 – September 4th 2010 – Aviva Premiership
London Irish opened the 2010/11 season with a blockbuster second-half comeback over Saracens in the traditional London Double Header at Twickenham Stadium.
Sarries, reeling after their Premiership final loss to Leicester Tigers four months earlier, started well with Shalk Brits playing his part in strengthening his side’s position going into the break.
The hooker’s fast-hands and quick-feet were involved in Ernst Joubert’s opener, with the South African front-row international dotting down himself in the second quarter of the match.
Irish returned reinvigorated, with Steffon Armitage assisting his brother Delon to kickstart the revival, before Sailosi Tagicakibau was on the end of a Ryan Lamb cross-field kick to touch down, having just missed out on a breakaway minutes earlier.
Lamb himself registered 13 points in the national stadium with an impressive performance, as Topsy Ojo was denied a brace with his initial effort adjudged as a penalty try after a cynical push from Kevin Barrett in the process.
Tries: Delon Armitage, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Penalty Try, Topsy Ojo
Conversions: Ryan Lamb (2)
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (3)
Tries: Ernst Joubert, Shalk Brits
Penalties: Derick Hougaard (2)
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall believes his side’s endeavour shone through in the second-half of their win against Harlequins at The Stoop.
“We weren’t ourselves in the first half and didn’t have the same energy that we’ve had in recent weeks, but looking at the scoreboard it was still winnable at 19-9,” McCall stated.
“We weren’t perfect in the second half but had much more energy and I think the result is reflective of our work rate- we’re delighted with the result and it’s something we can build on for the next game.”
Tries from Dominic Morris, Jackson Wray and ten points from Alex Lozowski in the final 40 overturned the ten-point deficit, but the Director of Rugby emphasised determination without the ball also contributed to them walking away with four points.
“Across the board we fought and scrapped really well, Quins were camped in our 22 for a long time in that second half and that is when the game can be decided but we got through it and can be really pleased with that.”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)