Up & Running
By Martin Lee
Watford’s 1st XV got up and running with an entertaining victory away to Saracens Amateurs in a pre-season friendly.
Sarries have certainly had the edge on Watford in recent seasons, regularly taking victory in a series of close fought encounters. With this in mind and the fact that the hosts now plied their trade in a higher league following Watford’s relegation last season, we were certainly keen to try and upset the proverbial apple cart. Regular supporters of the two teams would perhaps have struggled to find familiar faces on the pitch, both teams missing regular players thanks to the back end of the holiday season.
Watford showed they had taken on board the messages from the new coaching team during pre-season and flew out of the blocks. The pack have added a new string to their bow in the off-season, the usual powerful carries now allied with a willingness to play a more expansive game when the situation suits. Second rows Jon McClennon and Chris Routley showed up well in the opening exchanges, Routley making a particularly impressive 50m break early on.
The visitors enjoyed the majority of possession and territory and were soon rewarded when new Skipper Simon Bram found no 8 Martin Lee on the angle for the opening try. Josh Wilkinson, playing out of position at centre, added a second soon after for a deserved 0-10 lead (both sides agreeing to skip conversions / kicks for goal given the game was a friendly).
Sarries young side gradually grew into the encounter and replied with a score of their own prior to a 20 minute water break. Watford used the break to bring on new recruit Jonny Tidmarsh for his 1st XV debut, before unfortunately losing Meredith to an ankle injury. Tidmarsh was the creator for Wilkinson’s second, blocking a Saracens clearing kick for Josh to finish off.
Watford were on the attack from the re-start, unfortunately knocking on 5m out to give the hosts a scrum on their own line. The visiting pack turned on the power, Martin Lee dotting down for his second on the stroke of half time.
With the heat taking its toll on both teams, an already expansive game opened up further. The men in black got themselves back in the game after their centre intervened with a neat interception to score from 60m out. Things went from bad to worse, Keelan Tullett joining Meredith on the bench after taking a blow to the head. Thanks to the numerous absentees, this meant a tiring Watford faced 30 mins against a resurgent Sarries with only 14 men.
Saracens soon added another to bring themselves to within a score with 20 minutes still on the clock. Thankfully, the conditioning put in over Summer paid dividends with Watford reverting to a tighter game plan and looking to squeeze the life out of the match. A rolling maul was illegally halted when a try seemed inevitable, however series of drives saw Adam Hancock dot down from close range. With time almost up, Silver found Martin Lee running a hard line to complete his hat trick with the last play of the game.
Skipper Simon Bram was a pleased man following Watford’s first win of the season. “There are lots of positives to be taken out of today’s game. The progression made in only six weeks to both offensive and defensive structures is excellent, along with much improved discipline from the lads in order to implement what we have worked on. If we continue with the same work ethic and focus at training then it should be a successful season. A good start to our journey, and a solid platform to build on.”