Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Saracens book semis spot

Glen Jackson

Saracens staggered to an LV= Cup semi-final away to Northampton despite losing 23-22 at home to a Newport Gwent Dragons team who treated the game as if they also had something to play for.

The English side went into the game knowing one point would send them to Franklin's Gardens while victory would mean a trip to take on the Cardiff Blues.

But despite having nothing but pride to play for, the Dragons made it clear from the start that they had come to Vicarage Road to show their rugby skills.

Glen Jackson can always be relied upon to nail free gifts, however, and when Newport's fine start faded and they handed Saracens a sixth-minute penalty, Jackson made no mistake and doubled their lead with his second goal in the 10th minute.

Just when it looked as if Saracens would ease into total control, a fine pass from Newport captain Ashley Smith unleashed wing Will Harries whose twisting turning solo run carved open the home defence for a splendid 15th-minute try converted by fly-half Jason Tovey.

That man Jackson took only six minutes to recapture the lead with his third penalty of the night and his 12th out of 12 attempts in the competition this season, and the see-saw scoring continued when Tovey landed a huge penalty from near halfway three minutes later.

Jackson regained the lead yet again with 28 minutes on the clock with kicking of a standard that Jonny Wilkinson would acknowledge as top drawer, but Tovey tilted things back the Dragons' way on the stroke of half-time with an excellent long-range penalty from a difficult angle.

Saracens were running the risk of missing out of what seemed a certain semi-final place when wing Harries struck again on 47 minutes. It was Dragons captain Smith who was again the provider, this time with a clever grubber kick that caught the home defence flat-footed. Tovey's conversion opened up an eight-point gap that stunned the home crowd.

Fly-half Derick Hougaard made his presence felt within 60 seconds of arriving off the bench, arrowing over a drop goal. That lifted Saracens and their fans and when Chris Wyles charged down an attempted clearance by Martyn Thomas, his pace took him clear for an opportunist try and Hougaard's conversion should have put Saracens back on the winning track.

Instead Tovey had the nerves jangling again with a calmly-taken drop goal on the hour as Newport simply refused to be dominated.

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