- Gallagher Premiership
- Saturday, September 8th 2018
- Allianz Park
Will Carpenter reports from Allianz Park
Report: Saracens 44-23 Bristol Bears
Saturday, September 8th 2018
George Smith’s red card proved the decisive moment as a valiant Bristol Bears fell to a 44-23 defeat to Saracens at Allianz Park, after inflicting a first-half scare on the reigning champions.
The Wallaby flanker was sent off for an alleged dangerous tackle on Jackson Wray in the 48th minute with the scores level at 18-18, following Alapati Leiua’s first-half double, and from there the hosts made their numerical advantage count, as Liam Williams crossed for a 24-minute hat-trick to seal a bonus-point win for Mark McCall’s men.
Nick Haining touched down late on and Siale Piutau was held up inches short of the line, as Bristol Bears pushed hard for a consolation bonus-point, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors, who suffered a first competitive defeat in seven games.
In an all-action first-half, it was the home side who opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute, with Matt Gallagher rounding off a slick Saracens move after Farrell’s delay and pin-point pass had freed up space for the youngster.
But after an early wake-up call, Pat Lam’s men sprung into life in the 11th minute with a stylish score of their own. Hurrell’s outside break and a burly carry from Ed Holmes was followed by a terrific cross-field kick from Callum Sheedy, which floated and dipped over the head of Alex Lewington and into the arms of Alapati Leiua, for the Samoan’s second try in successive weeks.
Sheedy was back in the action soon after, landing a penalty from 40 metres after Saracens had been penalised for offside. And the fly-half repeated the feat 12 minutes before the interval, this time following a Saracens infringement at the breakdown.
Bristol could have had a second when Luatua scooped the ball off his laces and handed on to Andy Uren, but the scrum half’s kick through was well covered by Owen Farrell.
Saracens continued to hammer away at the Bristol defence, but found themselves denied by a combination of Piers O’Conor and Alapati Leiua, with the latter following up O’Conor’s covering tackle on Lewington with a thunderous hit on Lozowski.
But a quick-fire double from the boot of Farrell turned pressure into points shortly before half-time, as the sides looked to be heading into the huts all square.
Not to be though, as Leiua showed power and pace to squeeze in the corner and give Bristol a five-point lead at half-time, with Sheedy’s conversion drifting wide.
Saracens levelled things up early in the second half, as Goode picked out Lewington with a lofted pass on the right-hand side.
Then came the turning point on 48 minutes, with Smith given his marching orders for a tackle on Jackson Wray – and from the resulting scrum, replacement Billy Vunipola crashed over to put Saracens back in front.
One man and seven points to the good, the home side took control with replacement Liam Williams scoring twice in 15 minutes to give the champions some breathing space in the closing stages.
Nick Haining bagged a third for Bristol on 73 minutes, busting an opening down the left- before hacking and collecting Tom Pincus’ grubber kick. But Williams had the final say two minutes from time, gathering Farrell’s cross-kick to complete a second-half hat-trick and a bonus-point win for Saracens.
Bristol Bears: O’Conor; Morahan, Hurrell, S Piutau, Leiua (Pincus 64); Sheedy (Madigan 52), Uren (Randall 52); Lay (Woolmore 55), Thacker (Malton 50), Thiede (Afoa 13), Holmes (Joyce 55), Latta, Luatua (c) (Haining 55), Smith, Lam.
Replacements: Malton, Woolmore, Afoa, Joyce, Haining, Randall, Madigan, Pincus.
Saracens: Goode, Gallagher, Lozowski, Barritt (c), Lewington, Farrell, Spencer; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Isiekwe, Rhodes, Wray, Vailanu.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Lamositele, Skelton, B Vunipola, Wigglesworth, Tompkins, Williams.
With the scores locked in at 18-18, the 48th-minute red card for George Smith proved to be the turning point in this end-to-end Gallagher Premiership clash.
The flanker's tackle on Jackson Wray was adjudged high and dangerous by referee, Andrew Jackson, reducing Bristol Bears to 14 men for the remaining 32 minutes, as Saracens took full advantage with four tries in that period.
Man of the match: Piers O'Conor
On his competitive debut for the club, Piers O'Conor put in a hugely accomplished performance at full-back for Pat Lam's men.
The 23-year-old was a threat throughout the 80 minutes, showcasing his pace, power and footwork and playing his part in two of the three Bristol tries.
But it wasn't just his attacking play that caught the eye, a first-half covering tackle on Alex Lewington denied Saracens a certain try, as the former Ealing man impressed for the men in black and white.
Photo of the match:
Social media posts of the day:
- Gallagher, Lewington, Vunipola, Williams (3)
- Farrell (4)
- Farrell (2)
- Yellow Cards:
- Red Cards:
- Leiua (2), Haining
- Sheedy (2)
- Yellow Cards:
- Red Cards: