MBN

NEWS

Defiant Saracens reaffirm Premiership favourites status after beating Bristol

Nikki Haley writes ‘finish them’ on IDF shells during Israel visit
Published Time: 11.05.2024 - 21:40:23 Modified Time: 11.05.2024 - 21:40:23

Defending champions sent a message to their rivals ahead of the playoffs with an ominous victory PA/Bradley Collyer Bristol Bears 20 Saracens 41This tussle represented a microcosm of a fascinating campaign in which challengers are aiming to dethrone Saracens, who have endured difficult patches and yet will still feel confident of retaining their title

Defending champions sent a message to their rivals ahead of the playoffs with an ominous victory

: PA/Bradley Collyer

Bristol Bears 20 Saracens 41

This tussle represented a microcosm of a fascinating campaign in which challengers are aiming to dethrone Saracens, who have endured difficult patches and yet will still feel confident of retaining their title. They have had far more convincing seasons, but will take some stopping.

Mark McCall’s men are often at their best when spurred by defiance. Whether or not they were motivated by the fall-out from Billy Vunipola’s misadventure, here was another stirring statement.

Industrious, wily defence foiled Bristol Bears, whose season now hangs on beating Harlequins, and Saracens escaped a second-half spell in which they were reduced to 13 men following yellow cards to Maro Itoje and Ben Earl.

They enjoyed slices of fortune. That said, McCall’s charges stood tallest in the pivotal moments and produced plenty of incisive attack. Roared on from the stands by Brendan Venter, over on a consultancy stint, Saracens delivered a display that looked ominous for the rest of the Premiership.

Elliot Daly starred from full-back, Juan Martín González was imperious in the back row and Itoje bagged a double before being sin-binned. Owen Farrell steered matters. McCall applauded “effort and smarts”, remarking that his team’s defence was as good as he could remember.

Hitting back ????Maro Itoje and Juan Martin Gonzalez combine to narrow the gap for @Saracens ????⚫️Watch live on @rugbyontnt and @ITVRugby ????#GallagherPrem | #BRIvSAR pic.twitter/gINKNuG3UF

“We were 41-0 down at Sandy Park in the first game of the Premiership,” he said. “There have been other tough moments this season, but there have also been enough strong collective performances along the way.”

Saracens must still beat Sale Sharks to secure a home semi-final and it is no guarantee that they will even reach Twickenham. Even so, Northampton Saints, Bath and others will feel sick if they do not capitalise on the holders’ palpable stage of transition.

“The thing with Saracens is that you have to stay within one score or be ahead,” admitted Pat Lam, the Bristol director of rugby. “When you’re chasing a game, they make it difficult.”

The contest was beautifully poised. Bristol were on a tear of six consecutive Premiership victories with Saracens quietly resurgent. Warm sunshine bathing Ashton Gate’s pristine surface invited everyone to throw off the shackles.

McCall had retained Billy Vunipola despite the latter’s boozy incident in Mallorca, deploying him on an imposing Saracens bench that featured six forwards.

Benhard Janse van Rensburg clattered Marco Riccioni from the kick-off before Joe Batley opened the scoring to reward Harry Randall’s snipe. AJ MacGinty’s 40-metre strike sent Bears 10-0 up until a rapid riposte.

Farrell slipped a pass that was batted down by Siva Naulago. The Bristol wing was sin-binned and gave up three points. MacGinty replied before Bristol left the door ajar and paid for their reluctance to kick. Ellis Genge fumbled inside his own 22 and Itoje, set up by González, stretched over.

Another lapse from Bristol allowed Saracens to level. Farrell tapped a penalty and, with the help of Ivan van Zyl, stole 30 metres up the middle. Elliot Daly, assuming responsibilities from the tee because of Farrell’s tight groin, converted a penalty.

In a flash, Saracens were ahead. González rose to nab a line-out and Farrell drove a superb 50:22 over the head of Max Malins, setting the platform for Itoje’s second try.

50/22? Completed it mate. @Owen_faz is now casually hitting 22/22s ????#GallagherPrem | #BRIvSAR | @Saracens pic.twitter/aybszHFDuX

Saracens were warned for persistent infringing at the beginning of the second period. However, defensive desperation won out. Bristol fumbled and Saracens hacked clear, forcing a penalty on the chase. Daly was on target again.

Match details

Comments

More stories

More from Rugby Union

More from The Telegraph

NEWS