Get involved: send your pictures, video, news & views by texting TIMES NEWS to 80360, or email us
Saracens lose 17-16 to Toulouse in Heineken Cup as Owen Farrell misses late chances to snatch victory
‘Cette fois, c’est du lourd’, wrote one French publication this week: ‘This time, it’s heavy’.
Ferocious tackles, blistering breaks and mammoth forward drives undoubtedly characterised the majority of this contest at Wembley but ultimately the result came down to two moments far more delicate.
After 76 minutes of power, the game was decided on precision – one missed penalty and one missed drop-goal later, Saracens had lost their first match of the season 17-16 to Toulouse.
Upon such fine lines are these most important matches usually settled.
Saracens have spent the last two seasons trying to bulk up and build an artillery that can compete alongside Europe’s most powerful packs and this ‘Battle of the Giants’ in front of a record 61,428 crowd at Wembley showed how far they have come.
Tries from Chris Wyles and Christopher Tolofua saw the scores level after 20 minutes but two Owen Farrell penalties gave Sarries a 13-7 lead at half-time.
The home side started the second half with renewed vigour and when Farrell extended the lead to nine points on 51 minutes, it looked like the hosts were in control.
Toulouse though rolled through the gears as Jean-Marc Doussain’s penalty and a converted Louis Picamoles try gave them the narrowest of leads before Farrell late dramatics fell agonisingly short.
Saracens will feel unrewarded for an impressive performance but the reality is they now trail Toulouse by four points in Pool 3, needing a win in France in January if qualification is to remain a probability.
Jacques Burger returned to the Saracens back row while Richard Wigglesworth started ahead of Neil de Kock and Duncan Taylor was preferred at centre to Joel Tomkins. New signing Marcelo Bosch was named on the bench.
Saracens had the better of the opening exchanges and laid down a marker when Steve Borthwick stole a Toulouse line-out in the first two minutes.
It was the visitors though who had the first opportunity to trouble the scoreboard but Luke McAlister, usually so reliable from the tee, struck his penalty wide.
Playing at a high tempo and with more impetus early on, Saracens looked the more threatening and with eight minutes on the clock the hosts scored the first try.
Taylor broke through in midfield and fed Wyles who, with 20 metres in front of him, bounced the ball off Ashton before finishing for a brilliant score. Farrell converted to give Sarries a 7-0 lead.
The Men in Black’s tails were up and Ashton nearly broke through again but as he kicked the ball ahead of him, the winger appeared to be dragged back by Jean-Marc Doussain and Gillian Galan rushed back to clear the danger.
Ashton looked to be at his industrious and menacing best and the Sarries winger looked to be in for a second score as a brilliant offload from Schalk Brits found Taylor but Ashton couldn’t gather the final pass.
Going forward the Men in Black were inventive, aggressive and sharp but under pressure they were unusually generous, conceding five penalties within the first 17 minutes.
McAlister was subsequently handed two relatively straightforward kicks at goal but the Kiwi fly-half let the hosts off the hook on both occasions.
David Strettle was sin-binned in the 18th minute for a mistimed tackle and as Toulouse cranked up the pressure, their ascendancy was eventually rewarded.
Saracens fans are not used to seeing their pack moving backwards but a tremendous driving maul had the Men in Black floundering as Tolofua finally touched down.
Relieved of his kicking duties, McAlister allowed Doussain to convert and make it 7-7 after 21 minutes.
A thumping tackle from Alastair Hargreaves on Yannick Nyanga gave Saracens a turnover soon after and Toulouse were forced to concede a penalty.
For the first time in the tournament, Farrell missed his kick from the tee but moments later he made amends, firing Saracens into a 10-7 lead with his third successful kick at goal.
There was still time for Farrell to add another three points for the hosts and Saracens took a 13-7 lead into the interval.
The first ten minutes of the second half was all Saracens as the home side patiently kept possession until Ashton was freed out wide and his poked kick through was desperately cleared into touch.
A collapsing scrum gifted Farrell another chance from the tee and the England man made no mistake, slotting home to extend the gap to nine points after 51 minutes.
The Men in Black may have been disappointed not to have collected more points from their pressure however and Toulouse immediately responded.
Now it was the hosts’ turn to be on the back foot, as wave after wave of French attack was resisted by a stubborn Saracens defence who maintained their advantage past the hour-mark.
Toulouse refused to let up however and with 13 minutes to play they pulled themselves back to within one score of their opponents as Doussain converted his first penalty to make it 16-10.
Alex Goode was forced back over his own line soon after and from the five-metre scrum Louis Picamoles dived for the whitewash as the Sarries defence finally surrendered. Referee Nigel Owens referred to TMO but the try was given and after Doussain converted, Toulouse led 17-16 with nine minutes left.
With only four minutes remaining on the clock Saracens were awarded a penalty a couple of metres inside their own half and Farrell opted for a kick at goal.
As Wembley held its breath, the Sarries man unleashed his right boot but as his kick sailed straight and true, it dropped agonisingly short.
Sarries piled on the pressure in the final play and with the ball secured, Farrell dropped into the pocket for a last-gasp drop-goal.
Wembley waited again but his effort was charged down and as the ball spun up and short, Sarries' lingering hopes were dashed.
Saracens turn their attention back to the league next week when they take on Northampton Saints away from home.
Saracens: 15. Alex Goode, 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Chris Wyles, 12. Duncan Taylor (Tomkins, 48), 11. David Strettle, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth (De Kock, 48), 1. Mako Vunipola (Gill, 62), 2. Schalk Brits (George, 62), 3. Matt Stevens (Johnston, 62), 4. Steve Borthwick (capt), 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 6. Billy Vunipola, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Ernst Joubert (Brown, 48)
Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Rhys Gill, 18. James Johnston, 19. George Kruis, 20. Kelly Brown, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Marcelo Bosch, 23 Joel Tomkins
Toulouse: 15. Maxime Medard, 14. Yoann Huget, 13. Florian Fritz, 12. Clement Poitrenaud, 11. Hosea Gear, 10. Luke McAlister (Vermaak, 25), 9. Jean-Marc Doussain, 8. Gillian Galan, 7. Thierry Dusautoir, 6. Yannick Nyanga (Lamboles, 60), 5. Joe Tekori, 4. Yoann Maestri (Lamboley, 40), 3. Census Johnston (Montes, 60), 2. Christopher Tolofua, 1. Schalk Ferreira (Steenkamp, 40)
Replacements: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. Guthro Steenkamp, 18. Yohan Montes, 19. Romain Millo-Chluski, 20. Gregory Lamboley, 21. Louis Picamoles, 22. Jano Vermaak, 23. Gael Fickou
Referee: Nigel Owens
Attendance: 61, 428
Comments are closed on this article.