LIONS WATCH: Saracens player ratings vs Nottingham
Mark McCall didn’t shy away from vehemently making his point last Sunday about the activity of his half-dozen England players at Saracens in comparison to their rivals for selection in the 2021 Lions squad that will soon be announced by Warren Gatland.
The consensus outside Saracens for many months had been that the form of their stellar front-line cast wasn’t what it could be, their players going on a mid-winter break in between the conclusion of England’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign and the start of their ill-fated Guinness Six Nations.
With Saracens in limbo due to the delayed start of their Championship season, rival players for Lions selection were busier pre-Six Nations and it was felt they were stealing a Lions march. McCall, though, didn’t agree and he used his post-match media briefing following last Sunday’s dismissal of Ealing to back his England contingent now that they are finally back playing club rugby.
“Our players are getting more rugby than the Welsh, Scottish and Irish – they are hardly playing at all. (Wales captain) Alun Wyn Jones didn’t play for the Ospreys on Saturday,” director of rugby McCall said. “Fingers crossed we can finish our domestic season with a couple of really meaningful matches.”
With only a few Lions selection rivals in action this holiday weekend due to it being European semi-finals weekend, Saturday was an opportunity for Saracens’ domestic season to come to the fore just days before Gatland reveals his 36 picks for South Africa next Thursday.
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Up against winless bottom club Nottingham, who had lost all six previous games, the Londoners were more than a class above in their comfortable 56-0 win. Converted tries in the opening 35 minutes from Andy Christie, Alex Lewington and Dom Morris secured a 21-0 lead interval lead.
With Nottingham in yellow card trouble and at one stage down to 13, the contest was ended with three early second-half scores, a penalty try, Lewington’s second and another from Tom Whiteley to stretch the lead to 42 points by the 53rd minute. Tries from Eroni Mawi and Harry Sloan then rounded off the rout. Here are the Saracens player ratings from Lady Bay for the England six looking to secure Gatland’s approval next week:
15. ELLIOT DALY – 6
A fourth Championship start for the full-back who was dropped by Eddie Jones’ following England’s loss to Wales before getting back in the starting XV for the round final defeat in Ireland. Had a quiet first-half here with most of the play revolving around the forwards and there was one loose early second-half pass, but his patience was rewarded when he blasted onto a 53rd minute Owen Farrell pass to canter clear and put Whiteley in for a try. Was much busier from there on in, but a forward pass out of the tackle on 70 was typical of his luck.
10. OWEN FARRELL – 8
The talisman returned to the bosom of his club with his reputation tarnished by a Six Nations that ended with calls for him to lose the Test captaincy. However, he has since been handed the Saracens captaincy on a long-term basis and he directed his team well in Nottingham, kicking precisely in the early stages of his third Championship start before going on to pose more of a threat with ball in hand. This was best seen in the second try, Farrell successfully handling three times in the move. Was on the receiving end of a dominant Alex Dolly tackle just before the break but he kept taking the ball flat in the second half, continuously asking questions of the defence in a game where he landed all seven of his conversion kicks.
1. MAKO VUNIPOLA – 7
His fourth Championship start went well, his penalty winning dominance at the scrum crucially in evidence on either side of the interval. Would have been criticised during the Six Nations for being a limited presence in general play, but his handling and agility were visible in Saracens’ second try, the loosehead remaining composed with a juggling ball before grasping, hitting the deck and smartly popping to keep the move going. Played for 50 minutes.
4. MARO ITOJE – 8
This was the potential 2021 Lions skipper’s fourth Championship start in recent weeks, the lock returning to the McCall set-up under the microscope after conceding too many penalties with England. He made playing at this second-tier level look easy from the moment he latched on to drive Christie over for the opening score. Applied incessant pressure throughout on the Nottingham forwards and even treated himself to a massive gain in territory with a 27th-minute carry from inside his own half.
8. BILLY VUNIPOLA – 7
There were occasions looking at his body language during this game that he is still the player low on confidence that came back to Saracens from an England campaign where there was a cacophony of calls for Sam Simmonds to be chosen. An early penalty for not rolling away added to that impression but he eventually went on to enjoy an industrious evening in his fourth Championship start after he won a 30th-minute penalty poaching Nottingham possession. Credited with the assists for the third and eighth tries, breaking around the corner off a scrum before the interval and then peeling away from a maul just before the finish.
16. JAMIE GEORGE – 6
As with Daly, he had to swallow the bitter pill of getting dropped from the starting England XV during the Six Nations. His fifth Championship appearance arrived off the bench, the hooker appearing on 50 minutes with Nottingham already well-beaten. Tried to look busy, his best moments being a 70th-minute gallop after gathering a loose ball and then the lineout throw that led to the Sloan try that rounded off the scoring.
'Some of the hotels, especially the one in Dublin, Jesus Christ, honestly like, it was something else. Like there was silverware at the tables'
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