MATCH REPORT | Gloucester-Hartpury 21-22 Saracens Women (AC Semi-Final)
Well, they say that knockout rugby comes down to the top two inches. On a sunny day at Hartpury, it came down to a matter of millimetres, as Saracens Women edged their way into the Allianz Cup final next Sunday.
This was the first time the squad had played together in four weeks and there was an element of looseness to the opening exchanges, as the connections on the field took time to come back together.
With Sarah Bebbington producing a series of abrasive carries, Sarries seemed to be on the front foot. However, it was the hosts who struck first, as Rachel Lund broke free through the middle of the pitch to dot down.
Sarries were searching for a quick response, with Sydney Gregson looking to threaten the line. The hosts though, managed to hold out, but only for a short period of time.
This result was built upon the work of the pack, and they made their mark early with a scrum penalty against the head.
It was from this platform that Sarries struck back, as the driving maul created chaos, before Alex Ellis powered over from close range.
In truth, the rest of the first half became something of a slog for both sides, as defences ruled, and kick-tennis commenced.
It was the hosts though, who made the crucial impact before the break, as they pounced on ill-discipline from Sarries to work their way forwards, with Sophie Bridger eventually finding the space to wriggle over.
Sarries were still in the hunt though, with the pack leading the way, as they worked their way deep into Gloucester-Hartpury territory, only to be penalised for holding on.
Into the second half, and Gloucester looked to threaten again, with Bridger racing clear, only to lose the ball deep inside the Sarries 22.
There seemed to be a steeliness about this Saracens side though and they hit back on the 50-minute mark, with May Campbell powering over from the back of a rolling maul.
Sarries were flying now, with Flo Williams producing a silky offload to release Sonia Green into space.
The try looked to be on, but the hosts produced some superb last-gasp defence to avert the danger.
It would prove to be only a matter of time though, until Sarries hit the front, with some slick play from the backline allowing Lotte Clapp to race over out wide and take the lead for her side.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Saracens looked to be in control, as they set up camp deep inside the Gloucester half.
The hosts though, have made a habit of scoring big tries this season and they hit Sarries with a sucker-punch, as Liv Jones broke free and raced clear, with Emma Sing collecting the ball to skate in under the posts and retake the lead for her side.
Straight from the restart though, Gloucester conceded a penalty, allowing Sarries to reassert themselves in the attacking red zone.
The hosts defence though, was resolute, as they then worked their way back up the field and into the Sarries 22.
A big moment was needed, and the pack produced it, with another penalty, to allow Williams to move her side up the field.
After another penalty against the hosts, Gregson showed a keen eye for what was going on in front of her, to take the penalty quickly and secure another penalty, as Gloucester failed to retreat ten metres.
The resulting defensive set from the hosts was brutal, as Sarries found themselves going backwards with ball in hand.
It only takes one moment though and, with the clock ticking down, Leanne Infante found Clapp on her inside with a delicious pass, to allow the co-captain to power clear and muscle her way.over, to snatch the lead back again.
There was still time for the restart, as Sarries looked to wind down the clock with a series of carries from the pack.
But there was to be one last twist in the tale, as they were penalised for holding on on the 10m line, with the clock in the red.
As a silence descended on the Alpas Arena, it all came down to the boot of Emma Sing.
The England international is arguably one of the best kickers in the game. But it was Sarries who breathed a huge, celebratory sigh of relief, as the kick drifted millimetres wide and dead, to seal a remarkable result for Alex Austerberry’s side.
Results tomorrow will determine the venue for the final. But that will matter little right now to Sarries, as they look ahead to a first final of the season next Sunday.