As Louis Grimoldby kicked off into a drizzling but bright sky, a familiar chant of “AMPT-HILL…..AMPT-HILL…….AMPT-HILL” resonated around the stadium. But this wasn’t from the bank at Dillingham Park but inside The StoneX, home of the three times European Champions Saracens in what was billed as “the biggest game in our club history” by some and “David v Goliath” by the mainstream press.
Some 80 Maroon & Gold fans, grateful to be amongst a crowd of 2000, were determined to be their team’s 16th Man. And with Saracens fielding five British & Irish Lions and team with 633 International Caps between them, the Mob would need all the help they could get.
Saracens started fast. Two tries from Nick Tompkins and third from Jamie George, all converted by England captain Owen Farrell put the home side 21 – 0 to the good after 14 minutes. Whilst the Saracens board and supporters were humble and hospitable off the pitch, their players were clearly throwing down the gauntlet to any Championship side daring to challenge their Premiership return. As the night developed Farrell would put on a tactical masterclass before leaving the pitch on 55 minutes only to be replaced by Alex Goode – he can also play a bit!
Ampthill has a strong working relationship with Saracens – Mark McCall had spoken of his “trust in Paul Turner” to develop Academy talent and Ampthill missed their young colleagues tonight.
In his pre-match interview, Director of Rugby Mark Lavery had talked about “breaking the game into blocks of 20 minutes”. In the second twenty, Ampthill started to get some ball, and with more composure and better accuracy may have scored more than the one try from Syd Blackmore. Aleki Lutui came agonisingly close to Ampthill’s second try – just short of the line after sustained pressure in their host’s red zone.
Saracens again demonstrated their depth of talent with a Maitland brace before halftime – both on the blind side and Farrell adding his fourth conversion (from five) to make the score 33 v 7 at Half Time. Ampthill’s challenge wasn’t to be helped by an HIA to the impressive Llewelyn Jones and a sin bin for WASP’’s loanee scrum-half Porter – adjudged to have tripped Maitland in the build-up to the fifth try!
A high-energy first half with some encouraging passages of play for Ampthill, outdone but in no way overwhelmed by Saracens. Beckett and Humfrey especially taking the game to their hosts.
The second half was under threat of becoming an exhibition from Owen Farrell. Almost from the kickoff – he took the penalty advantage and spotting Ali Crossdale in space, delivered an inch-perfect crossfield ball which the winger collected with ease, and stepped inside his marker to score. Conversion 5/6 for Farrell and 40 v 7.
Ampthill then introduced some Premiership quality of their own with Gloucester’s Tom Hudson replacing Cam Anderson. Hudson certainly added experience to the back line and allowed the A’s to play more on the front foot with his attacking kicking game.
Saracens would score another three tries through Obatoyinbo after Daly made space, and a near-identical brace for Tom Woolstencroft before the A’s troubled the scorekeeper again.
With 70 minutes on the clock, the A’s got their second try. Louis Grimoldby’s kicking game had been strong all evening and it was from his defense-splitting grubber kick that Spencer Sutherland touched down with a poacher’s try. Conversion missed 59 v 12.
In the final few minutes, Saracens scored arguably the try of the game against a tiring Ampthill defence. Alex Goode made a break from deep and a sumptuous offload for Ali Crossdale to finish his second and try number eight for Saracens before Dom Morris finished the scoring, breaking the Ampthill line from the 22 for number nine, and a final score of 69 v 12.
Speaking with Ampthill RUFC TV after the game, Mark Lavery said “I’m sure that some of our supporters were pinching themselves even at kick-off to check that we were actually playing Saracens, at The StoneX, in a competitive game. The boys didn’t stop working tonight and I’m really proud of the effort we put in, but occasionally in any sport you come across a better team but in this case, we didn’t just come across a better team but one of the best teams in Europe.
It will be an experience we will never forget and whilst we are humbled on the scoreboard we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
Saracens have been very gracious hosts, and the team they put out tonight demonstrated both their respect for us as a club and the Championship competition as a whole. It’s been a great evening, a superb experience for everyone involved in our club but now those 80 minutes are done, hostilities are over, and we can get back to the strong working relationship we have with Saracens. We look forward to welcoming our young Saracens back for a huge game at Dillingham Park against Richmond on Sunday afternoon when we’ll have a crowd of our own”
Tries: Blackmore, Sutherland
Sin Bin: Porter
Tries: Tompkins (2), George, Maitland (2), Crossdale (2), Obatoyinbo, Woolstencroft (2), Morris
Conv: Farrell (6), Goode
Man of the Match: Nick Tompkins (Saracens)