Realistically playing Saracens I was not expecting a win, however as the week progressed and understanding Saracens were several key players short, Britz, Joubert, Bosch, Burger, Mako Vunipola, De Kock and possibly Farrell and Hamilton, a win was not out of the question. Indeed with Borthwick also having retired the Saracens players, many who have played 1st XV during the previous season would have to front up without the leaders on the field, this a significantly different task. Wasps fundamentally were only one significant player missing, Leiua, even though he is totally unproven I, like many others, believe he will make a huge impact, we will see. Most/many of our other new recruits are high level players but not significantly better - simply provide good depth. Hence my Prediction League assessment changed several times, I finally settled for a 29 - 26 win to Sarries, based mostly on our rollercoster form last season.
Having now seen the game it was really one that got away. Saracens were a shadow of the team they were last season and very much for the taking. We need to improve significantly from this performance if we are to challenge for a top six place. Defensively we were a shambles throughout the game. During phase play we conceded the gain line too easily, too often drawn in by the dummy runner, had little or no composure during scrabbled defence situations and were too easily undone by simple post or circle balls. Equally we took a belt and braces approach to defend the short side off scrums supposedly due to the threat of Billy Vunipola, this approach left us exposed on the openside and led directly to the second Strettle try.
In attack Nathan Hughes gave us some excellent momentum crossing the gain line regularly. Haskell was more hit and miss but generally carried well. Most of the pack carried well, Launchbury was simply outstanding with work rate and support play and Gaskell showed at last we have a player that can pass a ball effectively. Mullen and Festuccia worked hard and effectively in the loose as well as contributing to a good set piece work from the pack. Like most of the previous 3 seasons our attacking play relies on individual brilliance as opposed to any structured approach. Joe Simspon carved a big hole, Launchbury unbelievably was first up to maintain the attack, Goode hit a fantastic cross field kick, Wade finished brilliantly and Ashley Johnson showed his versatility to create a score. Pretty sure this will continue to happen throughout the season, but we must do more, we must work purposefully and collectively.
Our back row is terribly unbalanced and provides little support in attack, little cover or defence in the wide channels. Our distribution around 10 and 12 is slow, predictable, inaccurate and often we are taking too much space from the players out wide with our distribution and running lines. Generally off slow ruck ball our runners are taking the ball standing still and provide no threat and mostly fail to get across the gain line. Also of concern is our perceived fitness levels. We did not look sharp. This could be early season cobwebs. However it needs to be better.
Next up is Northampton who were simply outstanding against Gloucester. Should imagine (hope) they cannot perform to that level again back to back. Hopefully the Saracens game was just a case of nervousness, over excitement and we will see a more structured and controlled performance to go with the undoubted individual brilliance within the squad.