Fixture: London Irish v Saracens
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 17
Date: Saturday 19th February 2022
Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium
Bolstered by a third bonus-point win of the Gallagher Premiership season, London Irish return home to the Brentford Community Stadium this Saturday for a colossal clash with local rivals Saracens.
Irish’s half-back pairing of Nick Phipps (2T) and Paddy Jackson (1T, 5C, 3P) combined for 34 of the Exiles’ 49 points on the night against Bristol Bears last weekend, walking away from Bristol with a first win on the road in the city for 13 years.
Whilst the Men in Black have maintained a monopoly on the fixture over the last decade, the home form of Saturday’s hosts commands attention – with Irish being one of three sides, along with Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks, to have not lost a home fixture in any competition since October 30th, where Bristol last emerged victorious at the BCS.
Since the last contest between the two sides less than a month ago in the Challenge Cup, Sarries tasted defeat at Wasps, but have since accrued successive wins against Bath and Harlequins.
The boss – Joe Shaw
Saracens Head Coach Joe Shaw will be hoping to commemorate his birthday weekend leading Saracens to what would be a third consecutive win for the first time since October.
Turning 42 this Sunday, the young coach has assumed a greater responsibility of fully leading the matchday XV following the regrettable news of Director of Rugby Mark McCall’s ill health.
The former England Sevens man spoke of his pride in younger players like Callum Hunter-Hill ‘stepping up’ in what was his second win since taking the reins at the StoneX, declaring ‘that is what Saracens is all about.’
Shaw played an instrumental role in the Club’s success in 2015, leading the men’s side and Saracens Storm to an LV Cup and A League title respectively, after initially joining as an Academy Coach.
One to Watch – Theo McFarland
Such is the confidence in the ability of Theo McFarland by his new employers that the Samoan international has been rewarded with a new contract six months into his stay in North London.
The vitality showcased in the 26 year-old’s 13 appearances in black and red have won fans over after arriving from Major League Rugby side Dallas Jackals in August – only scrum-half Ruben de Haas has played more minutes amongst Saracens’ new recruits across this season.
16 seconds after being introduced from the bench against Gloucester in January, McFarland bagged his first Premiership try via a charge-down, equaling the fastest-ever score by a replacement in the Premiership.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 27, Saracens 24 – March 1st 2008 – Guinness Premiership
The Exiles prevailed in a battle of wills in a tight affair at the Madejski, where elected kickers Peter Hewat and Glen Jackson brought the result to the wire as Irish adjusted their focus on a play-off spot.
Much of the opening half was contested from the boots of the aforementioned counterparts – Hewat establishing a 12-6 scoreline, before Ben Skirving’s converted try prior to the break gave Saracens their second lead of the game.
Jackson again increased his side’s slender margin, but Irish’s first try arrived from the wide flanks, Topsy Ojo finding speedster Sailosi Tagicakibau to cross over.
More placed kicks from Hewat and Jackson were sandwiched between efforts from team-mates Gonzalo Tiesi and Kameli Ratuvou, setting up a grandstand one score game that the visitors’ 10 couldn’t negate from the tee in the final minute.
Try: Sailosi Tagicakibau, Gonzalo Tiesi
Conversions: Peter Hewat
Penalties: Peter Hewat (5)
Try: Ben Skirving, Kameli Ratuvou
Conversions: Glen Jackson
Penalties: Glen Jackson (4)
Saracens stand-in skipper Mako Vunipola was pleased with the performance of his side in atrocious weather against Harlequins last weekend, admitting ‘conditions dictated the game’.
“It was important for us to stay alive as Quins have dangerous players all over the pitch,” Vunipola expressed.
“I thought we stayed disciplined and made our tackles well – over the last couple of weeks we’ve got better and you saw what it meant when we got that scrum penalty at the end.”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)