MATCH REACTION | Alex Austerberry
Director of Rugby Alex Austerberry admitted that “coming away with five points was brilliant,” as his side opened their Allianz Premier15s campaign with a hard-fought 34-21 victory over Loughborough Lightning at StoneX Stadium.
In challenging conditions, the game was on a knife-edge heading into the final ten minutes, before a Flo Williams penalty and a last-gasp score from Georgia Evans added some gloss to the scoreline.
“It was never going to be perfect and at times we invited the pressure onto ourselves. Credit to Loughborough, they played well. In parts, we were very good and in parts, we were masters of our own downfall,” explained Austerberry. “In the second half, we came out firing, but some poor execution and poor choices let Loughborough back into the game and ultimately it then became a shootout in the final ten minutes.”
With Loughborough continuing to press and probe throughout the match, Saracens continually fronted up in defence, with the likes of Sharifa Kasolo proving to be a menace at the breakdown. Austerberry credited the opposition for their performance, as his side were made to work hard for their win.
“At key times, we stood up and won penalties and turnovers, but we couldn’t relieve the pressure. Credit to Loughborough for keeping us under the pump but we found a way with the penalty and that try at the end.”
The match also saw young fly half Katie Johnson make her first start for the club. Johnson is a player who Austerberry feels “has a big future ahead of her,” as he praised the pathway at the club and Johnson for how she had handled herself building up to the match.
“Historically we’ve always had a lot of young talent coming through and credit to Katie for today, because that was a full-blooded encounter,” Austerberry highlighted. “She took it all in her stride during the week and we’re really excited about her and the others who are coming through who have had the exposure in the cup. Today was the start of what I believe will be a very long and very successful career for Katie.”
On a challenging afternoon, Player of the Match May Campbell proved to be the catalyst for her sides’ victory. Austerberry admitted that he was “running out of superlatives,” to describe Campbell’s performances, as she took her tally to nine tries already this campaign.
“A lot of people put the work into a driving maul but ultimately it starts with May’s throwing. But it’s also around the park with her energy, her tackle count and her aggressiveness. She is developing into a real top performer in the league, and I think other honours will follow. She’s consistently been high quality and today, when it was tight, she stood up at key moments and made a big difference.”
Next week, Saracens return to the familiar surroundings of the StoneX for a London Derby against Wasps. Austerberry challenged his side to address their defensive performance ahead of the fixture, whilst accepting that improvements would come from the players and the coaching staff.
“We need to work on our first phase defence, and I thought our kick chase needed a bit of work. The game is about transitions and how you react to them. Some of that is our coaching and some of that is how we read the pictures on the field, but I’m sure that come Sunday we’ll be in a better place to play a full-blooded London derby against Wasps.”