Aviva Premiership Round 20: Saracens v Harlequins at Wembley Stadium; result Saracens 22 (4 league points) Harlequins 12 (0 league points). Almost certain outcome: Saracens to secure a home draw in the Premiership play-offs; Quins now unable to reach them.
One day I would like to make a visit to the new Wembley Stadium to witness a sporting event there in the flesh, just to be able to say I have. It may be a while before that happens, however, because I would never pay to watch a Saracens game and thus far they’re the only rugby team who have taken the sport there.
This begs two questions: why haven’t I already been to the new Wembley and why wouldn’t I pay to watch a Saracens game?
The answer to the first is tied to the eternal Rust issue of ‘in the flesh or on TV?’ as regards spectating sporting events.
Heed this, you youngsters: when you’re in the middle of your seventh decade, unless you are specifically ‘on tour’ as an adventure with a bunch of mates, the priority of seeing the sporting action you’ve paid for – in comfort and without stress – grows in importance year by year, just as your capacity to enjoy the whole ‘sporting day out’ experience decreases at a similar rate.
By ‘sporting day out’, I refer to the travelling to and from the venue; the remembering to take the tickets; the finding of your seats (then perhaps discovering they’re too small or squeezed together for comfort); the locating and then making your way to and from the toilets and/or food/drink outlets; the trying to actually witness the action whilst all around you are standing up and obscuring it and/or squeezing past at vital moments of the play for any one of eleven possible reasons (none of which involve any interest in what is happening on the pitch and/or letting anyone indulge theirs); the exiting from the stadium along with tens of thousands of others afterwards, the physical crush of massed humanity on the way walking to the station and travelling home via public transport; and lastly arriving home exhausted, fed up, noticeably poorer and wishing that you’d never gone but just watched it on TV instead.
The answer to the second [“What second? I hear my readers cry in every shire of the UK, so I must remind them ‘Why would I never pay to watch a Saracens game?’] is because every fan of a team game sport loves to reserve particular hatred for one of its main league opponents for reasons often sound and rational, but occasionally perhaps not so – and it doesn’t matter of which those it is, or even if it’s a combination of both.
Saracens are nearly £50 million in debt and yet annually carry nearer all before them because their financial backers have very deep pockets and regard all attempts by the authorities to impose or police ‘fair play and level-playing-field’ rules upon rugby’s Aviva Premiership as no more than minor irritations to ignore, parry and/or ‘get around’ any number of ways – whether simple, blatant and/or cunning – that their professional advisers can devise and then defend robustly, including by threats of, if not actual, legal action.
And, fair play, they’re very good at it.
As they are at playing rugby designed with one purpose, and one purpose only – winning.
They do this by hiring very big, tough, uncompromising, battle-hardened players in every position; by working very hard with very good coaches; and, on the field of play, playing uncompromising percentage rugby and imposing their essentially negative game (whilst also crushing any opposition attempt to play theirs). Having said that, I would admit grudgingly that over the last two seasons they have taken everything up a notch by adding occasional, very efficient, all-action passing attacks to the mix once they have established both control and dominance.
If any of the above just sounds like one-eyed jealousy by a Harlequins fan, I’d be honest enough to plead guilty.
With most Premiership games there’s the prospect of a vigorous and entertaining struggle to be seen before one team or the other emerges on top. However, any match involving Saracens ends being played their way or not at all. For Sarries any entertainment factor is nothing but a ‘nice to have’ add-on.
Suffice it to say that, even though they were resting several of their biggest stars for greater contests to come, the result was never in doubt and Saracens deservedly won 22-12, Alex Goode (at full back) and Chris Ashton standing out for their individual excellence.
The best that could be said of their opponents’ on-pitch contribution is that the points margin could easily have been ten to twenty greater. To this onlooker Quins’ tactics seemed entirely directed at surviving the Wembley experience without too embarrassing a loss and perhaps – but only if the opportunity presented itself [which it never did] – somehow towards the end nicking a result.
Far more entertaining was the full-bloodied, no quarter asked or given, East Midlands derby between Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers that followed straight afterwards on BT Sport.
It was a cracker of a game, one of the best I’ve seen in the last two years, and it duly rendered the one I’d originally built my TV-watching day around [Saracens v Harlequins] instantly and happily forgotten.