SARACENS WOMEN 2018/19 SEASON REVIEW: PART ONE
Saturday 27th April brought the curtain down on another successful season for Saracens Women as they retained the Tyrrells Premier 15s title with a 33-17 win over Harlequins Ladies at Franklin’s Gardens.
That win in Northampton put the finishing touches to a season that also saw the Saracens Women Development Team finish top the of the Premier 15s Development League.
As a club, the teams have played 38 competitive games and won 35. They’ve have scored 1,479 points and conceded 415 with a combined points difference of +1064.
The club also finished the season with a winning streak of 23 with the last club defeat being away at Bristol Bears Ladies in the Dev league in November.
In Part One of our season review, we look back at the first half of the season from September through to December.
The summer was a period of change for Saracens Women with Alex Austerberry (pictured below) taking over as head coach after Rob Cain left north London to take up a role as USA Rugby Women’s head coach.
Austerberry joined from the RFU having had a role as Performance Pathway Officer, where he worked with a number of the young players now at Saracens Women. Austerberry was no stranger to Sarries after roles in the Saracens Sport Foundation, Men’s Academy and at Saracens Women.
There were also a number of comings and goings among the playing group ahead of the 2018/19 Tyrrells Premier 15s season.
Garnet Mackinder, who scored in Sarries’ 24-20 final win over Harlequins Ladies, joined Wasps FC Ladies while Italian lock Valeria Fedrighi and prop Sam Martinez Gion moved to France and Netherlands respectively.
There were also England 7s Programme call-ups for young duo Helena Rowland and Emma Uren.
However, the squad was bolstered with the return of England Roses and 7s internationals Vicky Fleetwood (pictured below) and Sarah McKenna and Ireland’s Hannah Casey.
Scotland international Jodie Rettie joined from Thurrock while England 7s international Chantelle Miell and Worcester Valkyries’ Eloise Hayward also brought youthful depth to the wider squad.
That depth would prove key throughout the season with Sarries challenging in both the TP15s and the Development League and often having to contend with the unavailability of key players due to injury and international call-ups.
The first team started things off on the road to Firwood Waterloo Ladies in September, winning 38-5. A week later they were at Allianz Park for the first time that season and proved too strong for a young Worcester Valkyries in a 43-7 victory.
Saracens Women nailed Darlington Mowden Park (DMP) Sharks and passed 50 points for the first, but not last, time this season in a dominant 61-0 win in the north of England.
They finished the opening month of the season with a hard-fought win over Richmond as they came back from a 12-5 half-time deficit, to run out 30-12 winners.
What was already becoming apparent in those opening rounds was the ability of Saracens Women to produce try-scoring threats both in the pack and in the backline.
Already the Cleall twins, Bryony and Poppy, and the rest of the pack were proving a handful with their powerful carrying game. The likes of captain Lotte Clapp, fellow winger Georgie Lingham, and fullback Sarah McKenna were proving dangerous out wide with Lingham (pictured below) finishing the season as top try scorer with 17.
Their fifth win of the season followed a fortnight later against Wasps FC Ladies as Saracens Women returned to Allianz Park and were made to work hard for a 21-5 win against tough opponents.
London and title rivals Harlequins Ladies brought the season’s winning start to an end as they edged a close match at the Twickenham Stoop 20-17. A late sin bin proved decisive as Quins overturned a 17-10 deficit.
Sarries inability to manage key moments in the match from ahead and behind became a key learning for the squad and would come to fruition in a number of close finishes in the second half of the season.
Sarries got back to winning ways in convincing fashion though as they kept up their unbeaten run at home to see off a dangerous Gloucester-Hartpury Women side 48-24 and then backed that up a week later with a spirited 32-15 away win at Bristol Bears.
That win the West Country also saw the return from injury of England fly-half and centre Zoe Harrison.
Saracens welcomed the then league leaders Loughborough Lightning to Allianz after the international break with their squad depth ensuring they ran out 29-0 winners.
That win over Loughborough started a run of four matches where Saracens failed to concede a point and took control at the top of the table.
December saw the team win four matches, scoring 215 points and only conceding 17. They started the month away to Worcester Valkyries, winning 63-0 before welcoming DMP Sharks to Allianz Park with a 59-0 win.
They then battled the conditions, as well as Richmond, in a 48-0 home victory with Sarries forced to change kit at half-time due to the torrential downpour in the first 40 minutes.
2018 was brought to a close with a 45-17 win away to Wasps with Sarries' driving maul proving particularly effective.
That powerful finish to the calendar year meant that Saracens Women would go into 2019 at the top of the league.
Keep an eye out for Part Two of our season review where we'll look at our run into the final as well as the Development team's success