MATCH REPORT | Gloucester-Hartpury 27-36 Saracens Women
Saracens Women put in a commanding performance, as they reigned supreme at Kingsholm in one of the matches of the season.
Playing against a fired-up Gloucester-Hartpury side, Alex Austerberry’s side came out of the blocks firing, as they continued to show the same fluidity in attack that was on display last weekend against Harlequins.
In truth, it was all Saracens in the opening stages, as they continued to hammer at the Gloucester-Hartpury defensive wall, only to be hit back each time.
It was a physical, bruising encounter in these early moments, with Lotte Clapp and Alex Ellis putting in the sort of hits that would appear on an end of season highlight reel, if it wasn’t for the rest of the tackles going on around them.
There were 23 minutes on the clock before the deadlock was broken, with Flo Williams slotting a straightforward penalty to edge her side ahead.
The hosts though, would fire straight back and they took the lead after a brutal shove from their pack saw a penalty try awarded.
One swiftly became two moments later, as Sophie Bridger dummied and shimmied her way through the Saracens defence, to dance over for her first of the afternoon.
Saracens were facing a bit of a mountain to climb but, with the clock in the red at the end of the half, a brutal twenty metre driving maul put the hosts under pressure, with Mo Hunt seeing yellow for collapsing it as the try line motored into view.
There would be no mistake from the quick tap penalty though, as captain fantastic Marlie Packer eventually wrestled her way over the line.
Into the second half, and whatever was said at half-time certainly seemed to do the trick, with Poppy Cleall and Sydney Gregson powering through the defensive line. It was a clever read from Jess Breach though that saw her side hit the front, as the fullback picked from the base of the ruck and raced through for a second stunning score in as many weeks.
Saracens were ticking over now, as Gloucester-Hartpury were unable to halt the surge at the start of the second half. After a powerful burst through the heart of the defence from May Campbell, the forwards kept it tight, with Marlie Packer powering over for her second of the afternoon to increase the lead for her side.
The match was ebbing and flowing now, as Gloucester-Hartpury roared back into contention again, powering their way up towards the Saracens line.
Whilst the defence held out initially, after some sublime breakdown work from Sydney Gregson, the waves of attacking phases proved too much, with Gregson seeing yellow for stopping Hunt as she looked to take a penalty quickly.
From there, the hosts would score their third in slightly contentious circumstances, as they fed the ball wide to Bridger, despite seemingly dropping the ball in the maul.
Just when it seemed that the pendulum was swinging back towards the hosts, Saracens were back on the attack again, with Sarah McKenna forcing Tatyana Heard into a knock-on deep in her own 22.
With the penalty advantage in their favour, Saracens kept the pressure up, with May Campbell feeding inside to Kelsey Clifford to rumble over for the bonus point score and one that could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
The hosts though, would come back into it again, with Rachel Lund dotting down out wide after a sweeping backs move, as the game took yet another twist.
With six minutes left, Saracens turned down an easy three points and put the ball into the corner, as they looked to suffocate Gloucester-Hartpury out of the game.
The bold decision paid off too, as Cleall crashed over off the back of the maul to take the game away from the hosts once and for all.
Flo Williams’ near immaculate performance off the tee kept her side just out of arms reach and, despite a second late try from Lund pulling her side back into the mix, Saracens held out for a huge victory.
This was without doubt, a statement result on the road for Alex Austerberry’s side, as they handed Gloucester-Hartpury their first defeat of the season and kept the pressure on at the top of the table.
With matches against Sale and DMP before the Six Nations break, Saracens are sitting confidently and ready to pounce should either of the top two slip up.