Planet Rugby

Saracens shock the Ospreys

06th April 2008 14:18

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Haughton Saracens Ospreyd

Hairy Moment: Richard Haughton finds a gap in the Welsh defensive line

A magnificent collective effort - and a somewhat fortuitous try - saw Saracens through to a first-ever Heineken Cup semi-final via an epic 19-10 victory over the much-favoured Ospreys at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

With Irish giants Munster booking their place in the last four following an awe-inspiring performance at Kingsholm on Saturday, the Anglo-Welsh battlers knew their fate if successful pre-game in Watford.

The star-studded Ospreys also had the carrot of a home-based passage to the title if they could overturn their hosts for the second time in as many weeks, but it wasn't to be for a group of players who never got into their stride.

Meanwhile, Saracens played in a style that was unrecognisable from the side that were dispatched so comfortably at the Millennium Stadium two weeks previously, with a Munster-esque grit in their performance.

In contrast, Lyn Jones's men were patently not expecting to face such a wounded animal, with the hosts enjoying the lion's share of possession in a drum-beating atmosphere.

On the back of a morale-boosting Guinness Premiership victory over Leeds last week, Alan Gaffney's men were led superbly by Kiwi Glen Jackson with Richard Hill defying his years on the flank against former All Black Marty Holah.

Coupled with the Ospreys' inability to complete the final pass, the contest was won through a combination of guts and brains in a flip of the EDF Energy result.

The overnight snow had threatened the early kick-off in north London. But with the respective parties remembering to turn on the under-soil heating and a hover boat brushing the powdered surface, fears were allayed.

However, it wasn't all gloom for the visitors as in the opening five minutes the Welsh started as they finished in Cardiff, warming their travelling fans with a fluid running game, which led to an early penalty goal for James Hook - no 'Paterson Syndrome' for him.

But one got the sense that Saracens were still stinging from that 30-3 defeat as mainstay Kris Chesney fired up his side with a strong tackle on hooker Huw Bennett.

Consequently, the hosts moved downfield to level the scores through fly-half Jackson before their heavy penalty count this season almost haunted them again.

From a Hook touch-finder, lock Alun Wyn Jones was called back by referee Alan Lewis for tackling Neil De Kock without the ball in the act of scoring.

Saracens duly moved on and responded as powerful tighthead Cobus Visagie earned the English a long-distance shot at goal through his set-piece efforts, edging the hosts ahead.

Then a moment of opportunism finally sparked the Ospreys into life on 19 minutes as Shane Williams and Hook displayed their Grand Slam winning form. The sprightly winger shrugged off an attempted Jackson tackle 40 metres out to race into the opposition 22, until an error once again scuppered their attack.

Two enforced changes then hit Saracens as Brent Russell preceded Andy Farrell's exit from the game with Francisco Leonelli and Adam Powell coming on in their place.

And on the stroke of the interval, yet more Saracens possession saw the TMO deny the stretching Paul Gustard with a penalty advantage subsequently wiped out - questioned by the flank as the teams jogged to the break.

However, there was no hard feelings from the home contingent as immediately from the restart an Ospreys hand played the backtracking Saracens onside and substitute Leonelli raced down the right wing to stretch the scores to 13-3.

Was there to be another Welsh comeback against the English - a la Twickenham in the Six Nations opener?

Well, as expected, the Ospreys threw all of their arsenal onto the field with Filo Tiatia attempting to repeat that international feat. But yet more handling errors thwarted the visitors' efforts before another TMO decision this time denied Hugh Vyvyan a Saracens score.

And it looked to be a Welsh flash in the pan as Saracens set about turning the screw in Watford. Then matters were made even worse for the Ospreys when Lee Byrne slapped down a certain try for the now full-back Haughton.

From then on the hosts were rarely threatened as the shape of the Ospreys had all but diminished as the game entered its final quarter.

A late score from replacement Paul James gave the Welsh hope with four minutes remaining, but a late Jackson drop-goal claimed a shock reverse at a full-house in Watford.

Man of the match: Mentions for prop Cobus Visagie's scrummaging, a knowledgeable game from Richard Hill, and Richard Haughton's all-round effort from wing before moving to fullback. However, in 50 minutes, flank Paul Gustard put in a performance many wouldn't manage in a full 80! Tireless work in defence coupled with hard running until a shoulder injury forced him from the field.

Moment of the match: So many moments summed up the Ospreys' woes! The final pass and handling errors dogged the Welsh as Saracens' complete performance saw them through to a Coventry meeting with Munster.

Villain of the match: No villains at Vicarage Road as Saracens controlled the game from start to finish - what a turnaround from Cardiff!

The scorers:

For Saracens:

Try: Leonelli

Con: Jackson

Pens: Jackson 3

Drop: Jackson

For Ospreys:

Try: James

Con: Hook

Pen: Hook

Yellow card(s): Byrne (Ospreys) - deliberate knock-on, 58.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Brent Russell, 14 Richard Haughton, 13 Kevin Sorrell, 12 Andy Farrell, 11 Kameli Ratuvou, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock (c), 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Richard Hill, 6 Paul Gustard, 5 Kris Chesney, 4 Hugh Vyvyan, 3 Cobus Visagie, 2 Matt Cairns, 1 Nick Lloyd.

Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Census Johnston, 18 Tom Ryder, 19 Donald Barrell, 20 Mosese Rauluni, 21 Adam Powell, 22 Francisco Leonelli.

Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Jonny Vaughton, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Marty Holah, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Duncan Jones.

Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paul James, 18 Ian Evans, 19 Filo Tiatia, 20 Rhys Webb, 21 Andrew Bishop, 22 Aled Brew.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Touch judges: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Alan Rogan (Ireland)

Television match official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)

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