MATCH REPORT | Loughborough Lightning 12-27 Saracens Women
It was a defiant and impressive display of rugby on a bitterly cold afternoon in Loughborough, with Saracens winning 27-12 away and cementing their place at the top of the table with a bonus point.
The result puts Sarries at 43 points for the season, two ahead of second-placed Bristol Bears.
No 8 Poppy Cleall produced another dominant performance with two tries of her own.
Much of the entertainment, and three tries, came from the first half, which didn’t go quite as planned for Saracens. Despite going into the second half with a 17-12 lead, Sarries conceded 12 points and had Poppy Cleall in the sin bin all within five minutes before the half-time whistle.
Sarries’ first score came from Marlie Packer, who crashed over Loughborough’s try line after some lovely handling and offloads saw Zoe Harrison pulled down just short of the line. Harrison converted the try she helped create and the visitors had started strong.
Battles at the set piece were aplenty, particularly at the lineout, which owed to the amount and variety of kicks from Harrison. Opportunities weren’t totally in short supply for the women in red. Both Hannah Casey and Fiona McIntosh made breaks straight through the home side’s defence, but both times the pass was knocked on.
In defence meanwhile, Sarries left little room for Lightning to play. The kicking of Harrison and the defensive work rate of the entire team ensured that the visitors controlled the territory battle, and with Loughborough on the back foot, it seemed a second wasn’t far off.
It soon came, predictably from Poppy Cleall. The move started from winger Alysha Corrigan stealing the ball from Lightning, and Sarries moved quick to attack Loughborough on the far side, with captain Lotte Clapp delivering the decisive offload for Cleall to crash over. Harrison failed to add the two points, but Saracens looked comfortable with a 12-point cushion.
Play seemed to fall apart in the five minutes before half-time. Harrison’s clearing kick in Saracens’ 22 was charged down, and Lightning were stopped short of the line by a heroic effort from Corrigan. Cleall did well to steal the ball but her kick fell into the Loughborough backline lurking on the 22. In a matter of seconds, Helena Rowland danced her way through the Sarries defence to score, converting her own try and stealing the momentum from Saracens.
A few minutes later, Holly Aitchison restored balance, pouncing on a deft grubber kick and widening the lead to 17-7. Almost instantly, Loughborough returned fire and scored themselves right before the half-time whistle, bundling their way over from close range. Cleall picked up a yellow card in the process, and the game was suddenly out of Sarries’ control.
If anyone thought that Loughborough would head into the second half with the momentum, Saracens quickly put that idea to the sword. Much of the second was played in the Lightning half, with Saracens putting together a multitude of attacks, pinning the hosts back and forcing them to soak up wave upon wave.
20 minutes in and the first points of the second half finally came, with Harrison going for the posts and extending the lead to eight points.
Debutant Alev Kelter made a storming run down the far left, announcing herself to the Sarries faithful who travelled to show their support. Kelter offloaded to Corrigan who raced ahead and brought play up to the Loughborough 22, a try looked on the cards but a knock on a few phases later from Georgia Evans put an end to that.
Loughborough briefly took control of the game and had an extended period of possession, but Sarries’ defence stayed firm in the face of Lightning’s persistence and forced a penalty.
With the final whistle in sight, it was up to Cleall to add some glamour to the score line once again. Multiple phases of attacking Loughborough’s try line resulted in the No 8 bulldozing her way over, and Harrison added the extra two to put the game beyond doubt.
A bold and deadly performance from Saracens puts them five points ahead of second placed Bristol.
Written by Rhys Jones.