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Owen Farrell and Saracens suffer Champions Cup defeat to the Bulls

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 09: Elliot Daly of Saracens during the Investec Champions Cup match between Vodacom Bulls and Saracens at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on December 09, 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Owen Farrell could not inspire Saracens to victory on his return to action as the Bulls eased to a straightforward 27-16 win in the Investec Champions Cup.


The England playmaker, who is taking a break from international rugby for his mental well-being, kicked his two penalty attempts and had plenty of trademark up-and-unders, but also missed a penalty kick to the corner when Saracens were still in the game and both conversion attempts.

Saracens’ hopes were undermined by indiscipline, with Billy Vunipola shown a red card for launching himself into a clear-out and making contact with the head.

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Stormers coach John Dobson previews his team’s Round One Champions Cup encounter with Leicester Tigers

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Stormers coach John Dobson previews his team’s Round One Champions Cup encounter with Leicester Tigers

That followed yellow cards for Alex Goode and Maro Itoje, meaning Saracens played more than half the game with 14 players.

While English eyes were on the performance of Farrell as he returned to captain Saracens after missing last week’s defeat to Northampton with a knee problem, it was the South Africans who started with greater impact and confidence in Pretoria.

They turned the early pressure into points by going wide, with centre David Kriel finishing off a back-line passing move for the opening try.

Farrell got himself and Saracens on the scoreboard with a straightforward penalty which was quickly cancelled out by opposite number Johan Goosen. He then extended his side’s lead after Saracens gave away a ruck penalty.


Saracens went down to 14 men when full-back Goode was adjudged to have blocked Bulls wing Kurt-Lee Arendse after a kick ahead – an unlucky decision as the Saracens full-back appeared to do little more than brace for impact.

Saracens kept that period scoreless by the narrowest of margins when Stedman Gans just put a foot in touch on the way to the line after the ball went loose from a kick.

When Goode returned, Saracens were fortunate he was not immediately replaced by Elliot Daly, whose deliberate knock-on was deemed worthy of just a penalty.

They were not so fortunate a couple of minutes later when lock Itoje slowed Bulls possession down on the Saracens line. He saw yellow and Bulls lock Janko Swanepoel barged over from the tap penalty for his side’s second try.


It meant the Bulls went into the break with a 20-6 lead, with two tries scored and two disallowed by the TMO.

Wing Canan Moodie added another following a break by Arendse, but Saracens hit back, working Daly clear in the corner for their first try.

Theo McFarland added a second from close range for the visitors as the minutes ticked away, before Farrell hit a post with the conversion.


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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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