Lyon 20-28 Saracens: Visitors survive scare to seal the away win

Lyon 20-28 Saracens: Visitors survive scare to make it two wins from two with tries from Jamie George, Ben Earl and Sean Maitland – and Theo McFarland starring in the victory away from home

  • Saracens stormed to an early 15-0 lead, in the freezing cold, away against Lyon
  • Out of nowhere, Lyon stormed back into the game to end Saracens’ dominance
  • Saracens held their nerve to hold on to the win with Theo McFarland starring
  • The win made it two wins from two games in the Champions Cup for the visitors 

The Christmas market in Lyon’s Place Carnot thronged with festive shoppers on Friday night as the locals braved the freezing French temperatures to search for festive gifts.

Saracens aren’t normally known for giving generously to their rivals but after Mark McCall’s men gave away a 15-0 lead and went down to 14 men, it looked like they were keen to hand out a present of their own at Matmut Stadium. In the end, the Premiership side had to win this one twice.

That they did was no mean feat. The Champions Cup is clearly not what it was. It has justly had criticism this week. But this was a classic Anglo-French European clash. It ebbed and flowed.

Saracens beat Lyon 28-20 away from home – with Owen Farrell adding 10 points for his side

Saracens were dominant and then in reverse gear. As temperatures touched minus two in the stands, their director of rugby McCall lived and breathed every phase.

He knew how big this one was. Victory here means Saracens are now two from two and in the box seat for qualification. 

Two late line-out steals from the outstanding Theo McFarland after replacement Saracens prop Alec Clarey was sent off were crucial moments.

Theo McFarland impressed throughout Saracens’ important 28-20 away win against Lyon

So too was a length-of-the-field effort from the visitors which was finished by Sean Maitland but created by Alex Lozowski and an outrageous Lionel Messi-esque kick from Jamie George.

‘The fighting spirit we showed in the last 15 minutes was what got us over the line,’ said a delighted McCall.

‘We started really well, controlled the game, and then lost control. It was quite chaotic.

‘That is what you want this competition to be about. We were under significant pressure and it feels good to have won the match. I’m delighted to get a very important win.’

Ben Earl (pictured with ball) scored one of Saracens’ three tries in the game as they won away

So McCall should be. After limping past Edinburgh, this was always going to be a tougher test for Saracens and so it proved. They were never going to have it easy here.

But in the first quarter, Saracens effortlessly strode out into a comfortable advantage. Their forwards excelled. Owen Farrell kicked an early penalty. Ben Earl burst forward.

When the away side’s powerful driving maul was sacked illegally, referee Frank Murphy rightly yellow carded Felix Lambey but bizarrely failed to award a penalty try. No matter.

Saracens promptly kicked to the corner again and George rumbled over. Their second was even better, Farrell threatening to pass long but delivering short to Earl who waltzed over.

At 15-0 it was one-way traffic. It was trademark Saracens, powerful and ruthless.

Then, out of nowhere, came the French resistance. Even with their former Saracens lock Joel Kpoku injured, Lyon had plenty of dangers. 

Prop Hamza Kaabeche scored from close range on his team’s first attack and then added a second after hanging out wide. Kaabeche showed impressive pace.

Hamza Kaabeche scored from close range on Lyon’s first attack and soon added a second

All of a sudden, the French crowd had something to cheer. ‘No, no, no,’ screamed McCall as his wing Alex Lewington intercepted but then kicked possession away.

Saracens should have been more than five points clear at the break.

As the French supporters sipped their pinot noir and munched on foie gras and brie in the hospitality suites, they’d have known their team was lucky to still be in touch. Lyon went ahead for the first time with the majority of their fans still enjoying the interval refreshments. It was a controversial try, with Farrell at the centre.

England’s captain was smashed late by Yanis Charcosset. Farrell got up smiling as the ball sailed down field, but his smirk soon disappeared as an all-out brawl escalated.

In the meantime, Lyon wing Noa Nakaitaci had collected and sent Fletcher Smith over to score for a try which was only given after Murphy had consulted his TMO Leo Colgan.

Saracens had to survive a nervous spell in the match as Lyon climbed back into the game

Saracens all of a sudden looked nervy. But their risky tactic of playing in dangerous areas came up trumps with Maitland’s crucial score. Lozowski made the initial break, England hooker George was in support and kicked ahead brilliantly, and Maitland finished it off. It was a fantastic try.

George has previously shown his footballing talent on Soccer AM and it was again in evidence here.

Farrell’s boot took Saracens further clear but they showed impressive bottle to stay ahead after Clarey was rightly red carded for a high tackle on Arno Botha. A man light, Saracens were under the pump. 

But McFarland’s set-piece work helped relieve some of the pressure as McCall hopped and skipped around with nerves on a brutally cold evening.

Elliot Daly’s long-range penalty with the game’s final kick made it safe for Saracens.

Saracens held on to the win despite being a man-down after Alec Clarey was sent-off 

Lyon vs Saracens Match Facts



Tries: Kaabeche (2), Smith 

Con: Smith

Pen: Smith


Tries: George, Earl, Maitland

Cons: Farrell (2)

Pens: Farrell (2), Daly

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Attendance: 13,946

Star man: Theo McFarland (Saracens)


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