By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
SARACENS won easily at Parc y Scarlets, and it could have been a lot more considering the overwhelming domination the Londoners had up front in west Wales.
To be fair to the Scarlets they were missing 20 players through international call-ups or injury and Saracens picked a destructive scrummaging front row in the shape of Jared Saunders, Jamie George and Carlos Nieto.
And to compound their misery when the excellent Saunders went off after 48 minutes they were able to bring on Matt Stevens, making his first first-team appearance since returning from his two-year ban for taking cocaine.
Stevens’ first scrum resulted in a penalty which allowed Saracens to move into the 22 and score their third and crucial try from Ben Ransom, which gave them a 22-0 lead they never looked like losing.
Saracens head coach Mark McCall will, of course, be delighted with the 34-7 victory but he should be more pleased with the performance of a number of young players who got a rare chance to play for the first fifteen.
Saunders was probably the pick of the bunch alongside full-back Ransom, who scored with his first touch of the ball.
England Under-20s full-back Ransom was of course playing with a pack massively on the front foot, but he showed some lovely touches including a delayed and perfectly weighted pass to Noah Cato for his try after George had grabbed the bonus with a score in the corner.
George looks to be an England player in the making and will push hard for a Saxons spot in the next year.
After the match a smiling Stevens came out to meet the media who had gathered at Parc y Scarlets to see his return to top-flight rugby.
I have interviewed the prop dozens of times around the world and it was great to see him back.
His downfall was so unfortunate and I feel uneasy with the way the game shunned him after his failed drugs test. We must remember this was so social drugs (cocaine) and not performance enhancing so the game should have thrown its arms around Stevens, like other sports have.
But the great news is that he has 12-week old twins (both girls) and looks to be heading in the right direction, even if it is without much sleep!!!
I wish him the best and a rapid return to Test rugby. But it already seems to be an inspirational signing from Saracens. He has merged into the squad seamlessly. He is humble, enthusiastic and other Saracens players tell me that he fast becoming one of the favourites amongst the squad.
The Scarlets should be commended to the approach for the game. They should be proud of a crowd of almost 7,000 (Saracens may not have beaten this for the equivalent fixture at Vicarage Road) after some great work in the local community and they had a lesson for many Aviva Premiership club by sending all their players into the stands at the end of the game for them to sign autographs and meet the fans. Great idea!
They were unable to strike a real blow with 20 players out, and didn’t help themselves with a number of unforced errors that probably came with inexperience.
I’d like to see Joe Ajuwa with a bit more quality ball as he is clearly a powerful run, who did a lot with the ball he got.
I’d also liked to have seen more from No 8 Ben Morgan, who is a destructive runner but was injured midway through the first half so his chance to show he can inherit the jersey from David Lyons was cut short.
Hooker Emyr Phillips was at the centre of most good things that the Scarlets did and got his deserved try near the end. Definitely one for the future.
It’s a shame that the Region can’t hold on to outside-half Steve Shingler, who did a lot with limited resources, although he could hardly turn down the move to London Irish, who it seems he was been guaranteed a spot as either Irish’s No 1 or 2 outside-half. At Scarlets he’s behind Rhys Preistland and Stephen Jones, but could move in Wales contention with a good run at Irish. Another good signing by Toby Booth!
It was also an unforgettable day for Jake Randall, who at 17 became the youngest Scarlet to play for the Region. The experience he picked was invaluable and he didn’t look out of place at the top table.