Monday, March 14, 2016

Saracens 26 at London Irish 16 (English Premiership Rugby) - March 12, 2016

I like to take sports road trips, but sometimes the sport takes a road trip to me. Such was the case this past weekend when English Premiership Rugby paid a visit to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Of course, this is normally the soccer home of the New York Red Bulls, but it was set up for rugby on this day. Few fans seemed to take notice however; the crowd was announced at 14,811 but that must have included several thousand complimentary tickets that were not used as there were at most 10,000 in the ground. Unlike when the NFL travels to London, rugby has trouble gaining any traction here and I'd say the majority of fans were either visitors or transplants from the UK.

To be fair, the match between Saracens and London Irish was announced last year, but not marketed much. I only remembered it when seeing tickets on StubHub. I decided to wait until the last minute to buy one, which worked out as a friend of mine had an extra and it was a lot closer than those seats available on the secondary market.

Saracens (in blue and grey) top the table while London Irish are at the bottom, so at first glance, it didn't look like a good matchup, despite it counting for points in the standings. But the Six Nations tournament is taking place at the same time, and 11 of Saracens starting 15 were on international duty, so things were a lot closer than they would be otherwise.

The game started quickly with the Irish opening the scoring with a penalty before Saracens replied with a converted try in the 15th minute. The Irish fought back and immediately regained the edge with their own try, also converted, and when they added another penalty in the 24th minute to make it 13-7, it looked like a high-scoring match was in order. But then defense took over and the next points weren't scored until Saracens kicked a penalty five minutes into the second half. Another two penal ties in quick succession gave the Sarries the lead, but the Irish added yet another penalty to tie the game at 16 with 20 minutes left. Both teams threatened to score, but the defenses held strong. In the 68th minute, another penalty was awarded to Saracens who converted to take the 19-16 lead. London Irish fought hard to get a winning try but a late kick was blocked by the Saracens and returned for a clinching score. Adding the convert made the final 26-16 for Saracens.

It was a decent game, but the poor attendance leads me to think there won't be another one. The US sports scene is oversaturated as it is and rugby doesn't meet the American standard for a popular sport (lots of TV breaks and overanalysis by commentators). Definitely glad I went though and will keep this league in mind for my next trip to England.

Next Up

I'll be taking it easy until baseball season. I've got several trips planned this summer to complete the AAA/AA and High A baseball leagues, as well as seeing the Jays in San Francisco, Texas, and Denver. As always, check back for recaps and more!



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