Saracens 48-18 Wasps, Tetley's Bitter Cup Final, Twickenham
Lynagh and Sella bow out on Saracens' false dawn
Tom Hamilton
May 9, 1998
Saracens' Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella hold the Tetley's Bitter Cup, Saracens v Wasps, Tetley's Bitter Cup Final, Twickenham, May 9, 1998
Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella hold the Tetley's Bitter Cup
© Getty Images
Enlarge
Date: May 9, 1998
Venue: Twickenham
Saracens 48-18 London Wasps
Half-time: 29-6
Tries: Saracens: Sella, Constable, Johnson, Grewcock, Ravenscroft, Bracken, R Wallace
Wasps: Volley, Roiser

Con:  Saracens: Lynagh 5 Wasps: Rees
Pens: Wasps: Rees 2
DG: Saracens: Lynagh

"This will be THE London club. We planned to use the cup final as a platform for the next decade. As it is, our wildest dreams have been exceeded." These were the words of Saracens' marketing expert Peter Deakin in the wake of seeing the team win their first major piece of silverware in the club's history when they unceremoniously dispatched neighbours Wasps 48-18 at Twickenham in the 1998 Tetley's Bitter Cup final.

Deakin's words now seem strangely prophetic as Saracens are quickly becoming the Premiership's standard bearers but it did not happen with the immediacy he hoped.

Back in the 1997-98 season, Saracens had gone into the inaugural Premiership campaign full of hope. It was also their first season at Watford's Vicarage Road after a nomadic existence that had taken in Enfield's Southbury Road and Bramely Road.

They had bolstered their playing squad bringing in Danny Grewcock, Roberto Grau, Gavin Johnson and Australia's Sevens captain Ryan Constable prior to the start of the campaign while Michael Lynagh, Philippe Sella and Francois Pienaar added that drop of world class talent alongside home grown players such as Tony Diprose, Steve Ravenscroft and Richard Hill.

Saracens had laid foundations for a dynasty.

When they went into their cup final against Wasps on May 9, 1998, Saracens already knew the title was realistically beyond them, a league Newcastle had all but sewn up. But in the cup a thrashing of Blackheath following up by wins over Leicester, Richmond and Northampton saw Sarries into the final against Wasps, a team who won the league the year previous, and gave them some chance of silverware redemption.

For Sella and Lynagh, the match against Wasps was their last shot at winning a trophy for Nigel Wray's super club as both were retiring after the match. It was an emotional occasion on and off the field with a band of French supporters turning up to wish Sella well.

"One memory stands out, though, and that was just before the final, when we arrived at Twickenham on the bus," Sella later recalled to The Rugby Paper. "A group of French fans had made the journey to London to see me and they were playing French music outside the ground. I didn't cry, but it was very emotional to see those fans and I took a moment in the changing room to get my mind back on the game.

"I'd played at Twickenham many times during my career, but this was more special and my emotions were bigger so it made me want to finish on a good note in front of 70,000 people. It was a warm day, with a fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium, so we just had to play well."

And play well they did despite having a few walking wounded. They were handed a pre-match boost with Pienaar declaring himself fit for some of the game despite snapping his hamstring against Newcastle three weeks previous. Kyran Bracken was also carrying chronic groin and shoulder injuries and ploughed on for his club despite England coach Clive Woodward's reservations.

Saracens' Steve Ravenscroft makes some yards, Saracens v Wasps, Tetley's Bitter Cup Final, Twickenham, May 9, 1998
Steve Ravenscroft makes some yards for Saracens © Getty Images
Enlarge

Despite having a few injured men in their ranks, it was a day dominated by Saracens. From the minute they took to the turf with Men in Black booming out, Mark Evans' team were in control. Lynagh pulled the strings majestically and knocked over five conversions and a drop-goal. Sarries crossed for seven tries in total with Sella going over first. Kyran Bracken, Grewcock, Ravenscroft, Constable, Johnson and Richard Wallace all scored as they equalled Bath's record cup final total of 48 points.

All Wasps could muster were tries from Paul Volley and dentist-come-winger Shane Roiser. While Wasps were stunned by what had just occurred - that year's Rothman's Yearbook said the performance had left them "devastated and devoid of any credibility" - Saracens were reluctant to leave the field as they soaked in the atmosphere and saluted two men, Lynagh and Sella.

Sella later admitted there was "so much emotion" but "I didn't cry". For Lynagh, the win brought back memories of his World Cup final triumph in 1991 with Australia, a match which also took place at Twickenham. "After all I'd been through in the previous 15 years I was still as nervous as hell before the kick-off. I always wanted to go out on a high, to retire in the knowledge that I'd been competitive right to the end.

"What happened out there vindicates my decision to retire now. In obvious ways there are links between this victory and the World Cup win with Australia in 1991. I'm back at Twickenham and my parents are there in the Rose Room drinking tea, just as they were seven years ago."

Sella went on to start up his own marketing and communications company while Lynagh is now a hugely respected television pundit. Back in 1998, they left with a medal around their neck but Saracens had to wait 13 years for their next piece of silverware, a run which ended when they won the Premiership in 2011.

At the time, they would have baulked at you had you suggested it as Deakin's original quote suggested. While thought immediately headed to the future for Saracens when they lifted the Tetley's Cup back in 1998, for owner Wray, it had given him some return on a huge investment and he enjoyed the moment.

"What we saw was conclusive proof fairy tales do happen. You couldn't have scripted it like that for Michael and Philippe. To my mind he [Lynagh] is like the conductor of an orchestra. It won't play without him. He was the bloke who put Saracens on the map. The fact he would come to our council ground at Bramley Road meant others, like Philippe and Francois, would follow. It's no exaggeration to say that without him it may not have happened for Saracens and all of us at the club owe him an enormous debt."

© Getty Images
Enlarge
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Brazilian GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Darts - Premier League
    Golf - Houston Open
    Snooker - China Open
    Tennis - Miami Open