Final Countdown: The greening of Saracens

Munster native Darragh O’Mahony’s proud record with Saracens

Saracens’ Darragh O’Mahony in action in the English Premiership in  2004. He played 142 times for the club. Photograph:  Warren Little/Getty Images

Saracens’ Darragh O’Mahony in action in the English Premiership in 2004. He played 142 times for the club. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

The greening of Saracens part one

Saracens teams have included the great and the good of world rugby down through their history and that includes several Irish internationals but perhaps one less well known is Cork-born wing Darragh O’Mahony, who at one time held the London club’s try scoring record (26) and spent five years at the club from 1999-2004.

Born in Cork, he played his early rugby with Con and Munster before moving to UCD and switching provincial allegiance to Leinster. He won four Irish caps including playing in a World Cup quarter-final against France in South Africa in 1995. The following year he jumped at an opportunity to play rugby full-time joining Moseley and scoring 32 tries in 33 games across two seasons.

Bedford Blues, newly promoted to the Premiership, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he repaid their investment with 17 tries. O’Mahony was then headhunted by Saracens for the 1999-2000 season, would play for the club on 142 occasions over five years before returning to play with Dolphin (2004) and then quit rugby in 2006 to resume a banking career with AIB in London.

His last cap for Ireland was against Romania in 1998, predating his move to Saracens, in a World Cup qualifier and as he said in an interview several years later: “I played the worst game of professional rugby or amateur rugby I ever played in my life. And it was coming off the richest vein I’d ever had with Bedford.

“You beg to get picked at times when your form is great and at times you get picked when your form isn’t so great. That was a time when my form was as good as it’s ever been and I went back to Ireland for that game as confident as I’ve ever been, and proceeded to have the worst possible game. I suppose it’s one of the great conundrums of sport.”

One for the frontrow

Leinster’s 2012 Heineken Cup victory over Ulster at Twickenham was definitely one for the front row brotherhood in terms of the try scorers. Cian Healy crossed for a try as did a couple of the replacement frontrows in hooker Sean Cronin and South African Heinke van der Merwe, while there was also a penalty try and one from Sean O’Brien.

Heinke Van Der Merwe in action for Leinster in 2012. South African said Joe Schmidt was the best coach he ever experienced. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Heinke Van Der Merwe in action for Leinster in 2012. South African said Joe Schmidt was the best coach he ever experienced. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former Springbok van der Merwe spent two seasons with Leinster, having signed as a replacement for CJ van der Linde, before moving on to join Stade Francais. Speaking of his time with Leinster in a recent interview with a South African newspaper van der Merwe said: “I walked into a Leinster side that was on top of its game.

“The side was very strong and some of the greats of Irish rugby were in that team, including the legendary Brian O’Driscoll. We won two European Championships. I was very fortunate indeed. I also had the privilege of being coached by Joe Schmidt. He is the best coach that I ever experienced and it is not a surprise to me that he has been so successful in taking over the Irish national team.”

St James’ Park: has a capacity of 52,405. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
St James’ Park: has a capacity of 52,405. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Final venue

St James’ Park, the venue for this season’s Champions Cup final has a capacity of 52,405 and has four main stands. The Gallowgate End (officially it is called the Newcastle Brown Ale stand) is at the southern end of the ground and gets its name because of its proximity to the city’s old gallows. The Leazes End (Sir John Hall Stand) at the northern end of the ground is so named because it adjoins Leazes Park. The Milburn Stand, named after the legendary Newcastle United and England footballer, Jackie Milburn is the biggest of the four and sits on the west side of the stadium while the fourth is simply known as the East Stand.

Money matters

Boylesports make Saracens one-point favourites in terms of the handicap for Saturday’s Champions Cup final against Leinster at St James’ Park with both sides available at 10/11. Paddy Power can’t separate the teams in the same market offering identical odds with a zero handicap.

Numbers game

63: The number of points that Johnny Sexton has scored across the four finals making him the leading scorer in the blue riband match.

Team talk

“We rested our [first] XV. We’ll be in a much better state physically and mentally going into that game than we were last year (when they lost a quarter-final to the Irish province).” – Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall speaking after the club’s victory over the Exeter Chiefs in the English Premiership at the weekend.

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