MATCH REPORT | Bristol Bears Women 26-30 Saracens Women
Alev Kelter scored half of Saracens Women’s points as she played a starring role in a 30-19 victory away at Bristol Bears that extended the lead at the top of the table.
After an early injury to Georgia Evans forced the game to be delayed, Sarries burst into a 17-0 lead as Kelter slotted a penalty before going over for a try, and Alysha Corrigan raced up the field with a ruthless interception score.
Bristol responded before half-time, but Saracens came out strong at the start of the second half as May Campbell drove over from the back of a maul.
The hosts would score three more tries in the game, but the visitors held on as Poppy Cleall’s bonus point score and Kelter’s final penalty proved decisive.
With the two sides occupying first and second before the start of the weekend, this was always going to be high quality and entertaining battle, and despite major disruption for both teams at the start, it did not disappoint.
Evans suffered an unpleasant looking shoulder injury, and with the matchday doctor having to leave pitchside to give her additional treatment, the game had to be suspended twice in the first nine minutes, with the second stoppage lasting nearly three quarters of an hour.
When the game eventually did restart, neither side was able to gain an immediate advantage until Bristol hooker Hannah West was yellow carded in the 14th minute for a hair pull.
Strong carries and efficient hands allowed Sarries to continually break into Bristol’s territory, and after spurning one opportunity as Bristol won a turnover, the visitors won a penalty and Kelter knocked over the opening points of the game.
Though West returned, the hosts were unable to defend a Sarries scrum in the 22, as Kelter powered through the middle of Bristol’s defensive line to score the game’s first try before knocking over the conversion to give the visitors a 10-0 lead on 26 minutes, with Kelter bagging 10 out of 10 points.
She wouldn’t have the monopoly on points for long though. Bristol came back on the attack, but a superb read from Corrigan saw her snatch an interception as the hosts moved the ball down the line, and she sprinted 80 metres to give Sarries a 17-point lead as Kelter knocked over the extra two points again.
But as the half drew to an end, sustained Bears pressure got them on the board as they eventually drove over through Rownita Marston, with Vicky Fleetwood also seeing yellow during the defensive effort in a double blow for Sarries.
Corrigan was almost given another gift early on in the second-half, with some loose Bristol passing giving her another interception opportunity, but although she knocked on Sarries remained on the attack as they soaked up the sinbin period with a strong start to the second half.
Despite still being down to 14 players, the pressure eventually told and the visitors drove over the try-line through Campbell at the back of a maul. Though Kelter hit the upright with her kick, Saracens had crucially regained control of the contest as Fleetwood returned.
The control wouldn’t last long though, and despite some impressive defence over the course of the next ten minutes, Bristol’s sustained pressure of their own delivered the goods as Leanne Riley drove over off a tap-and-go from short range.
But it seemed every time Bristol struck back, Sarries had a response, and Cleall would go over soon after as the visitors regained possession in the 22, the number eight picking and going down the blindside with a poacher’s finish to give Saracens a 27-14 lead heading into the last quarter.
The Bears weren’t done yet however, stealing a lineout that had come from the restart before a brutal 20 metre drive at the maul took them over the line once more.
The conversion was wide though, keeping the visitors with a two-scores lead, and that was turned into two tries as Sarries hit back once again, this time with a Kelter penalty that took her personal points tally to 15.
Bristol did not give up though, and claimed two bonus points from the contest as Sarah Bern drove over for their fourth try in the dying moments, but Saracens held on after a deep restart kept the hosts pegged back.
Kelter was deservedly named player of the match, with brilliant carries and distribution in addition to her clinical goal-kicking and powerful first half try.
The result means Sarries extend their lead at the top of the table to six points with a game in hand on Bristol, who stayed second ahead of Harlequins after those crucial late bonus points.
Written by Nick Powell.