The Showdown 2, Match Report: Saracens Men 27 - 23 Bristol Bears
Saracens Men were successful on their first trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as they beat Bristol Bears 27-23 in front of a bumper crowd in The Showdown 2 in Association with City Index.
The Men in Black were forced to come from behind against a fired up West Country outfit, but eventually two tries from Max Malins, one from Elliot Daly and 12 points from Owen Farrell secured them a vital win in the Gallagher Premiership.
Despite the enormous build up it was Bristol who were quickest out of the blocks and they hit the front with just two minutes on the clock.
A break from Alapati Leiua took the Bears in to the Sarries 22, and then the hosts were penalised which allowed them to kick for the corner. The maul was stopped, but they recycled it well and then a short pass found Antoine Frisch who could stretch over from just two metres out. Tiff Eden’s conversion gave them a 7-0 lead.
That lead didn’t last long though as Sarries hit back to bring the crowd to life in style. Maro Itoje’s brilliant turnover allowed Daly to kick right up to towards the line, and then Farrell’s wide pass put Ben Earl in acres of space, who unselfishly passed to Malins who could stroll through in the corner. Farrell added the extras from the touchline to level it up after 10 minutes.
The hosts were then starting to hit their straps and Malins was almost in again when Alex Goode grubbered ahead, but the bounce was unkind and he lost his footing.
Nick Isiekwe then charged down a clearance and once again only a cruel bounce denied him a certain try.
Bristol then sparked back in to life to retake the lead just after the 20 minute mark. Eden carried up to the defence and offloaded which allowed them to break the line, and then the final defender was drawn in to release Piers O’Conor who was never going to be stopped from 20 metres out.
Jackson Wray was expertly put through a huge gap in the Bears defence from the restart as Sarries looked to respond. Despite being pulled down the referee came back for an earlier infringement which saw Farrell dissect the posts from the tee, and cut the deficit to just two points.
Huge scrum pressure then gave Farrell another shot at the posts in the 22, and the flags were raised as Sarries took the lead for the first time in the match.
They were only in front for two minutes though, as Billy Vunipola went for an intercept but a fumble meant the Bears got a penalty and Eden slotted it from straight in front with five minutes until half time.
It got even better for Bristol in the closing stages of the first half as they crossed for their third try just before the break. O’Conor’s dancing feet once again caused havoc in the Sarries defence, and then the ball popped up to Eden who pounced on it to bring the visiting fans back in to life. The conversion went wide but the Bears now had a 20-13 lead.
Sarries refused to lie down though and got themselves level in the final play of the half courtesy of an excellent try from Elliot Daly. Alex Goode’s offload on half way put Alex Lozowski charging ahead towards the line, and then he passed to Daly on his shoulder who cut back inside to dot down. Farrell’s conversion with the final play of the half made it 20-20 at the break.
The Men in Black started the second half impressively and were inches away from scoring in the opening phases. Aled Davies’ break saw him race in to the Bristol half, and Malins then carried down the wing but his kick ahead went dead and the Bears escaped.
Sarries were clearly in the mood though after the break, and got their reward for a positive start as Malins took his next chance to get his second of the match. The England winger carried with serious intent straight in to the defence, and he slipped through two tackles to cruise over the line. The conversion was again on the money and the hosts were now 27-20 in front.
Bristol looked for a route back in to the match and the lively Harry Randall had them edging close to a score when they had over 20 phases in the 22, but in trademark style the defence held firm and they turned the ball over which sparked huge cheers from the crowd.
The try bonus point was then looked like it had been secured just before the hour mark as Nick Tompkins crossed, but unfortunately it was called back for an earlier knock on.
Andy Christie’s barnstorming run took play in to the 22, and then it was recycled to Tompkins who stepped the final defender but a knock on at the breakdown meant they would have to wait for the extra score.
Bristol were staying in the fight however and a Callum Sheedy penalty cut the Saracens lead to just four points with 15 minutes remaining.
It all kicked off in the closing stages and it looked as if Bristol had stolen the win in the final seconds as Jack Bates scored in the corner.
With the clock in the red the Bears were celebrating wildly but after a check with the Television Match Official it had been deemed a forward pass and Sarries breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The ball was then smashed in to the stands and the hosts could celebrate a crucial victory.