Saracens got the Philadelphia cream with a 29-7 victory against Newcastle in the second Premiership game to be played in America
On a hot evening at the home of Philadelphias soccer team, a Saracens side featuring six 2017 Lions won away against Newcastle, with a try by Chris Wyles, a penalty try at the death and 17 points from Owen Farrells boot, to end the two teams week in Pennsylvania.
Mark McCalls double European champions are back on track after a defeat at Bath. Dean Richards Falcons, who had a breakaway Vereniki Goneva try converted by Sonatene Takulua, will regroup, deal with jet lag and prepare for their own trip to the Rec.
In their week in the US, the players got out to see the City of Brotherly Love. Wyles threw out a pitch at a Phillies baseball game; both teams went to watch Temple Universitys Owls play American football; Maro Itoje visited Independence Hall and the African American Museum. Not a few players filmed themselves running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.
Any who ventured inside might have seen The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, which shows a surgeon demonstrating his art to a class of eager students. Now an American masterpiece, in 1876 it was rejected for the citys centennial exhibition, perhaps because the subject was too bloody and brutal.
You may see where this is heading. Sarries art may not have been too bloody or brutal for a city mad for the gladiatorial insanity of American football plenty of players required treatment as the thudding hits piled up, but there was nothing serious immediately to report. But to most in Philly a game of professional rugby is an unfamiliar thing, even ahead of its time.
In the end 6,271 people were in the stands, 12,000 short of capacity at the Talen Energy Stadium and around 8,000 down on the figure for Saracens defeat of London Irish in New Jersey last year. This will disappoint Premiership Rugby. Shortly before kick-off of a game that fizzed then dwindled in oppressive humidity, fans were urged to move to sections 123 through to 130, to meet the gaze of the TV cameras.
Still, Eakins went from rejection to acceptance, a pillar of American culture. Maybe something similar will eventually be said for rugby. The Premierships US deal has three more years to run.
In year one, under a blazing late summer sun, fans bought craft beers and food. Ordering the Rugby Burger caused confusion until it was delivered under its everyday name, the Union, for the soccer team but fitting nonetheless. Others took selfies in a stadium that nestles under the Commodore Barry bridge, a steel span over the Delaware river that is echoed in the roof of the sports ground below. Most wore team colours: black and white for the Falcons, black and red for Saracens, selections from the kaleidoscope of American high schools, colleges and clubs.
Kevin and Joanne Kilgallon had come from close by with their son and daughter, Jack and Michelle. The family had a strong dose: despite never having played rugby, Kevin is the president of West Chester RFC, where his children both play. Jack, who wore the colours of Kutztown, a collegiate power to which he hoped to apply, plays scrum-half; Michelle, everywhere in the forwards.
We have cousins in Newcastle so were Falcons fans, Kevin said. Wed be here without the Falcons but its a bonus. Joanne asked me: Why do you want to come? I said weve been here for college matches but Ive never seen professional rugby live.
Chris West and Tracy Moyer had driven from Denver, PA. She was a newcomer but he had played for clubs including the magnificently named Myrtle Beach Kahunas, from South Carolina. I watch it on NBC Sports, he said. I see the Wasps, I see Newcastle and Exeter. The moment I heard, I bought the tickets.
Among the Brits, four or five diehard Fez Boys hid under a miniature awning, sipping beers. With them there were Scott and Britney Ferrara of Carmel, New York.
Scott Ferrara could be patient zero for the Premiership in America. He played football at school, heard about rugby from a teacher, followed the USA team and via Wyles became a Saracens fan, sustained by social media and an imported 5XL shirt.
He had seen Saracens at the Red Bull and against Sale at Allianz Park in February, during a specially extended honeymoon. He had a fez on. Britney wore a happily patient smile.
Then there were Andrew Moir and Angela Stevenson from Sunderland, Kingston Park season-ticket holders who had flown out independent of the club, planning to stay a few days. Did taking a home game from the Tyne to the Delaware bother them? I think its good, Stevenson said, then referred to the familiar sight of NFL matches at Wembley (and since last year Twickenham). American football does it to us in our country, so why not do it in theirs?
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