Saracens 24-23 South Africa, Wembley, November 17
Saracens claim Springboks' scalp
November 17, 2009
Saracens Ernst Joubert touches down for a try at Wembley Stadium
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Saracens heaped more woe on world champions South Africa with a 24-23 victory in their clash at Wembley Stadium.
A late drop goal from South African-born fly-half Derick Hougaard saw the Premiership leaders claim a famous win and hand the Springboks their third successive tour defeat following losses to Leicester Tigers and France.
A crowd of 46,281 saw the tourists take a 18-6 half-time lead thanks to tries from centre Juan de Jongh and winger Jongi Nokwe but Sarries battled back into the contest with two tries of their own from No.8 Ernst Joubert and Brad Barritt. Former Springbok Hougaard, who finished with a personal tally of 14 points, reduced the deficit further with a penalty before slotting the match-winning drop goal six minutes from time.
For the second time this season - following their Premiership clash with Northampton - Saracens attracted a bumper crowd to the traditional home of football in north London - one of whom, Stuart Tinner, left £250,000 richer after hitting the crossbar in a half-time kicking competition.
Saracens, who are bankrolled by a South African investment company, started with seven South Africans in their side plus England international Michael Horak and Barritt, who were both born in the country. The Springboks side featured five players who featured in the recent Test series with the British & Irish Lions, including fly-half Ruan Pienaar.
Two penalties from Pienaar had edged South Africa into the lead when the game really sparked into life just before the 20-minute mark. Straight from the restart, South Africa counter-attacked from inside their own 22 and exploited two forwards in the Saracens line to work an overlap for Jongi Nokwe, who roared clear of England prospect Noah Cato. As fullback Horak closed down the space, Nokwe slipped the ball inside for Andries Bekker in support but Cato, who had continued to track back, hauled the Springboks lock into touch just before he could touch down in the corner.
South Africa continued to press and although Saracens defended bravely, twice winning key turnovers, they could not halt the onslaught forever and eventually conceded. De Jongh ran straight and hard through Cato's attempted tackle and then held off the challenge from Kameli Ratuvou long enough to stretch for the line. Ruan Pienaar inexplicably missed the conversion but his embarrassment was countered by Hougaard, who made a complete hash of a long-range penalty.
The tackles from both sides were of bone-crunching intensity and Saracens had defended so well they barely deserved to go into the interval trailing 18-6. But the Springboks enjoyed a huge slice of luck when referee James Jones waved play on despite No.8 Ashley Johnson knocking on a huge up-and-under from Earl Rose and Nokwe scooped up the loose ball to score under the posts, presenting Pienaar with a simple conversion.
Hougaard landed a second penalty just before the interval but Saracens then drew level with two tries in quick succession as they launched a sustained assault on the Springboks line. No.8 Joubert scored the first try after charging down a clearance from South African replacement Francis Hougaard with one hand before scooping up the loose ball to dive over in the corner.
Saracens had their tails up and Ratuvou was almost sent clear after some slick passing between replacements Andy Saull and Rodd Penney. Although that thrust came to nothing, it carried Saracens back into the South African 22 and, after a powerful scrum, Barritt charged through three tacklers to score their second try.
Hougaard wasted the chance to put Saracens back into the lead with another missed penalty and South Africa hit back in style, with Rose and Odwa Ndungane linking brilliantly to send Nokwe over for his second try. But Saracens simply refused to be beaten. Hougaard dragged them back to within two points with his third penalty and then sparked wild celebrations with the match-winning drop-goal.