The first thing most will look for on a fixture list is the rematch between last year’s finalists. On paper, it’s the game everyone looks forward to, the settling of a grudge the proof the final was or wasn’t a one-off.
Be it Players or fans alike, who doesn’t like the settling of a grudge?
In truth, these games seldom live up to the occasion. If it’s the first or second round, then teams are still finding their feet and past that well, the glamour of the re-match has worn off.
But this time around, there was something eye-catching about the Saracens vs Leicester rematch and it turned out to be one hell of a game. Well for one team at least, Saracens.
That’s perhaps a little unfair on Leicester, who started the game with some gusto before fading badly with injuries across the team but the question most were asking before kick-off though was whether Saracens would persist with their “new style of flowing attack”, or under pressure would they revert to type?
Well on face value, Seven tries to two is a pretty clear response. Simply put you don’t rack up 50 points if you’re playing crash bang straight up the middle Rugby and kicking every piece of possession.
We can see from the Points per-quarter chart below that Saracen’s attacking momentum produced points in each quarter, specifically tries, whilst the 2nd period was the end of Leicester’s hopes of taking a win at the Stone X.
With such a dominant display on the scoreboard, we can look at stats such as territory and possession and expect to see some dominance but in truth, Saracens had 48% and 38% territory.
You may argue that stats are misleading and sure they can be on face value. I do, however, think on this occasion it very much indicates it ain’t what you do but the way that you do it.
An excellent example of this is Saracen’s ability to convert penalties into scores more than doubling that of Leicester, 28 to Leicesters 11 from 13 and 14 Penalties won respectively.
Ok, so Saracens kicked a lot of Penalties? Well, 2 actually. The same as Leicester. Past that, a further 21 points came from some form of attack in transition compared to Leicesters 7.
Probably the stand-out score of the match was that of Max Malins at 31 minutes.
So we’re going to break that down a little more.
The Anatomy of a Try: Max Malins vs Leicester Tigers
The score comes 30 minutes into the game. The scoreboard shows 15-13 to Saracens.
The start of this sequence of play is a Saracens Lineout and the counter-attack actually comes from a mistake by Ben Earl.
Saracens throw in and run a classic Brumbies move, faking the maul allowing Vunipola to break and pass to George who then finds Earl on a lovely under’s line to burst through the Leicester defence.
The move in itself is excellent, designed to isolate Cracknall defending at 10. With the peel and George in tow Leicester are understandably concerned. Vunipola draws in Clare at the tail, and George and Earl flood the channel with runners on either side of Cracknall.
The timing of Earl’s run is perfect and a soft pass from George sends Earl through the gap, only for him to pass to thin air. It looks like a bad mistake but it seems likely caused by Lewington changing his support line confused by Earls’s step and pass.
Leicester tidy up and Steward clears a good 60+ meters downfield to Daly supported by Malins. The advantage is over for Leicester and this is where things get interesting.
With all their support in front of them and off the back of an error no one would have blamed Daly if he’d just hoisted the chase.
In fact, it seems this is exactly what Leicester expect as there is no obvious urgency to pressure Daly, who finds Malins on a lovely line hitting the gap between Gopperth leading the chase and Reffell chasing across from midfield.
Notice how Gopperth gets himself isolated and Lozowski’s line blocks him from stepping back across.
Malins is through and Leicester’s focus is now all about stopping Saracens fast.
The problem is Saracens are in a fantastic support formation, van Zyl occupies the safe space, to Malins’ left, away from Cokanasiga now defending on the left wing. Tucked in behind him is Daly in a perfect position to observe and adjust his line as the attack unfolds.
Murimurivalu hauls down Malins as he makes the offload to van Zyl.
Notice how Daly adjusts his line into the space Malins has just vacated, this allows Van Zyl to simply draw and pass in two steps. It’s enough to catch Youngs between two decisions but also allows him to stay alive and support Daly after the pass.
In truth Leicester does nothing wrong here, they’ve got numbers around the ball but are constantly making chase-down tackles which means Saracens have the momentum of the tackle and are able to move and control the flow of the attack.
A perfect example is Daly’s ability to fend off Heyes and keep moving with the ball available to the next support runner, van Zyl.
It’s worth focusing on Saracen’s work rate and ability to stay in the game. On the far touchline, we can see George hovering having worked all the way over from the lineout on the opposite side, two phases on, he’s instrumental in this score.
Next notice how Daly even though taken to the ground after the offload is back on his feet to act as half back when Van Zyl (the actual half back) is hauled down.
The speed of Saracens’ attack, the movement off the ball and through the phase and players back into play is incredible and though they are not quite in a perfect attacking shape when Daly makes the pass there are multiple options for Tompkins acting as 10 to choose from.
A ball in behind to Farrell who plays long to Earl’s and who hasn’t quite read it.
Regardless by the time the next ruck forms Saracens have pulled over half of Leicester’s defenders into this half of the pitch.
While most teams would catch their breath and organise after the line break with a carry-off 10, Saracens immediately go to the far edge to keep Leicester’s defence moving and adjusting to a threat in a completely different part of the pitch.
Regardless of whether the bounced ball disrupts the move or not Leicester are chasing the attack.
As Lewington tidies it up consider how much ground Leicester have had to cover laterally to get to this point.
Judge carries off van Zyl and even with the slower ball, we can see there are 8 defenders in and around the ruck. Van Zyl’s pass gets Farrell nice and wide and Vunipola, Tompkins and George all make the pod with Lozowski making the tail.
Farrell picks George who fades outside and through the gap between Gopperth and Cockanasigna, Marlins gets on his shoulder and with momentum crashes over.
George’s work rate and reading of the game here are phenomenal, the ground he covers to get into this position and the awareness to drift off his line out of Gopperths vision before jamming back in. Notice how Gopperth is looking in watching what unfolds with Vunipola and Tompkins.
Gopperth never stood a chance.
It’s also a wonderful pass from Farrell, who waits until the defence has made a decision before firing it with enough power that George can drift off to get outside Gopperth.
As with the previous AOAT looking at Daly’s try vs Harlequins, this is a wonderful example of Saracen’s continuing ability to transition seamlessly between unstructured and structured attacking play.
The Phase play Kings: A New Breed of Saracen
For a team that’s long been considered boring Saracens have shed their skin in some style scoring 21 points from a transition attack they also scored all but one of their tries in under 5 phases.
3 wins from 3 games, all with try bonus points see them walk away with 15 points sitting pretty at the top of the Premiership.
It’s a scintillating style of play that saw their starting backline make 249m compared to Leicester’s 104m despite being significantly down on possession and territory.
Saracens are not alone in this, with all of the teams in the European leagues capable of playing some truly exciting Rugby, Europe promises to be an excellent competition this year.
Saracens start their campaign against Edinburgh at the Stone X in December and then away to Lyon the following week. Their ability to hit the European tournament with their all-court game still in dominant form will be key to their success.
Author: The Dead Ball Area