European Challenge Cup - Game of the Week
Hougaard shines as Sarries claim victory
January 14, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson was eclipsed by his opposite number Derick Hougaard
© Getty Images
Saracens kept their European Challenge Cup hopes alive by grinding out a convincing 28-9 victory over Toulon at Vicarage Road.
A 20-point haul from Saracens' fly-half Derick Hougaard eclipsed a mixed effort from Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson, who was subdued on his return to home soil as England manager Martin Johnson looked on from the stands.
A second-half try from flanker Justin Melck punished the visitors as they were down to 13-men following quick-fire sin-binnings for Olivier Missoup and Cedric Beal, allowing Saracens to close the gap in the Pool 3 table to one point heading into the final round. Still, if Brendan Venter's men are to qualify they must beat Rovigo next week and hope Toulon lose at home to Top 14 rivals Castres.
Chris Wyles sniffed an early try-scoring opportunity following a delicate grubber from Hougaard, but the USA international was beaten to the bobbling ball by Toulon's Worcester-bound fullback Luke Rooney.
Wilkinson opened the scoring immediately after with a monster drop-goal from just inside his opponents' half, but Saracens laid down a marker of their own by forcing a turnover at a scrum deep in Toulon territory. The ball was quickly worked to former All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall, who clipped over a drop-goal of his own.
Hougaard slotted a difficult penalty from out wide to give the home side the lead and they piled on the pressure first with a bruising maul and then with an effective chase to an arching kick from their Springbok fly-half.
Toulon's scrum continued to buckle under an onslaught from Carlos Nieto, Schalk Brits and Rhys Gill, with Hougaard extending Saracens' lead to six with his second penalty. Wilkinson responded as Sarries let their discipline slip momentarily but the tit-for-tat exchange again swung back towards the home side when Joe van Niekerk's offside charge handed Hougaard his third penalty.
A forgettable few minutes for van Niekerk ended when he knocked with the line at his mercy on following a well-judged grubber and offload by Wilkinson, but his fly-half spared his blushes somewhat by converting a third penalty.
Wilkinson was awry with his next penalty, which would have levelled the scores, and the England fly-half then had a clearance kick half-charged down just yards from his own line following a poor relieving pass from Matt Henjak, but Saracens could not capitalise. Wilkinson did eventually level the scores, but more indiscretions from Toulon allowed Hougaard to keep up his 100% record and secure a 15-9 interval lead.
The second-half began disastrously for the French side, with Hougaard extending Saracens' lead before they made the most of a two-man advantage when Toulon flankers Beal and Missoup were sin-binned within a minute of each other. Beal, the openside, was pinged for hitting a ruck off his feet and Missoup soon followed to the cooler after deliberately knocking the ball down.
After Hougaard had made it 21-9, Saracens began to up the ante with Marshall increasingly influential behind the pack and his livewire attack almost sent Saull over in the corner. Saracens remained on the front foot and, after a jinking run from fullback Alex Goode, Melck was driven over next to the posts for the only try of the game.
Hougaard converted to complete his haul and Saracens defended stoutly at the end to ensure there was no sniff of a Toulon comeback, despite having centre Kameli Ratuvou sent to the sin-bin late on.