MATCH REPORT | Saracens Women 33-66 Bristol Bears
There were tries aplenty, but it was the visiting Bears who eventually won out in a high-scoring clash at the StoneX, despite a hattrick from May Campbell.
Having pulled the deficit back to just two points early in the second half, Saracens were unable to keep applying the pressure, as the Bears eventually cut loose, to seal their second win in the cup.
Bristol had opened their account for the season with a comprehensive victory over Sale Sharks last weekend, with Alex Austerberry’s side enjoying a bye ahead of their season opener at the StoneX.
Whilst Saracens started positively, with backrow debutants Grace Moore and Taryn Schutzler making their presence felt at the breakdown, it was the Bears who scored first, as Ella Lovibond found space on the outside to race clear.
The response from Saracens was almost instant though, with debutant Abi Evans getting herself on the scoresheet. The try came from some superb work from the pack, who powered their way up to the line, before Kirsty Exley and her backs division fizzed the ball wide for Evans to scamper over.
It was raining tries in the opening minutes and it wasn’t long before Bristol were in again. This time it was Lucy Burgess, who picked off a floated pass to extend her side’s advantage.
Two soon became three for the Bears, with Lovibond again finding space and darting over out wide, but Saracens showed their resilience to haul themselves back into the match.
It may have been May Campbell who expertly finished from close range, but the score came from a superb solo break from Sharifa Kasolo, who left several Bears defenders in her wake to power up towards the line.
Alex Austerberry’s side had found their spark now and shortly after, they added their third, and Campbell’s second of the afternoon, following a pinpoint kick from Exley that had seen her side rewarded with a 50:22.
As the half ticked on, the confidence in the Saracens ranks only seemed to grow, with debutant Isla Alejandro and the returning Sydney Gregson showing some nice touches.
With half an hour on the clock, Saracens would hit the front, as Campbell scored her third. Again, it came from initial pressure from her fellow forwards, before she expertly applied the finishing touches under extreme pressure.
The game was ebbing and flowing, and it took another twist, as Bristol hit back. It was Lovibond’s turn now to score her hattrick, as she again broke free from the Saracens defence to dive over and retake the lead for her side.
Right on the stroke of halftime, Bristol then delivered a sucker punch, as Simi Pam spotted a gap in the onrushing defence and burst free to extend her side’s advantage.
Into the second half and the Saracens fightback seemed to be on, as they scored just minutes after the restart.
It would be Alejandro who crashed over for a debut try, but it was in no part thanks to the sublime handling of the Saracens pack, with Fi Mcintosh showing some silky handling to release the fullback.
With the gap down to just two points, Saracens looked to kick on, but the game would swing on the fifty-minute mark as first, Jodie Turl saw yellow for repeat infringements at the breakdown, before Holly Phillips drove over from the back of the maul.
With the seconds ticking down until Saracens were back up to their full complement, the Bears added another score. This time it was Ellie Mulhearn who found her way over from close range.
That score seemed to knock the wind out of the Saracens sails, with Bristol quickly adding another. With space out wide, scrum half Burgess was able to break free for her second, to effectively end the game as a contest.
With the clock ticking towards 80, there was still time for Courtney Keight to bag a late brace, as she finished powerfully in the corner on both occasions, to round off the afternoon for her side.
There will undoubtedly be several areas that the Saracens players and staff look to address ahead of an away trip to Sale Sharks in a few weeks’ time. However, there were also several positive building blocks, with a number of debutants showing flashes of real quality on their first outings for the club.