MATCH REPORT | Saracens Women 17-12 Bristol Bears
Saracens Women moved top of the Premier 15s with a nail-biting 17-12 win over title rivals Bristol Bears at the StoneX Stadium.
Alex Austerberry’s side were made to work for their victory but a moment of magic from Ella Wyrwas in the second-half proved match defining as Sarries extended their unbeaten league start to seven matches.
From kick-off the visitors were under no illusions of a warm welcome. Marlie Packer, immovable over the ball, won an immediate penalty, setting the tone for a fantastic individual display.
But the story of the opening stages was the Bears last-ditch defence, with Sarries denied a score from close range on three occasions within the opening ten minutes.
The missed chances proved costly. The Bears established a foothold in the game and after a succession of penalties moved into the Sarries 22 for the first time with 14 minutes played.
A clinical move showed why they are the league’s top scorers, with a finish in the corner from winger Jenny Hesketh.
The home pack responded quickly and re-asserted their early dominance with a fierce line-out drive that proved too much for the Bears defence, who were forced to stop the maul illegally.
The result was a yellow card for the visitors, but more importantly a penalty try and a first lead of the game for Saracens with twenty minutes played.
Austerberry’s side thought they had extended their lead when May Campbell went over following great work at the break-down by Vicky Fleetwood. But the referee adjudged there was no clear grounding, however, much to bemusement of players and coaches.
The first-half frustration endured. With the clock running down Bears co-captain Amber Reed turned the ball over in front of the posts, a reminder of why Bristol had only conceded 20 points away from home prior to this encounter.
Fittingly the half-time whistle came with Saracens in the Bears 22 but unable to add to their score. The two-point lead failing to provide a fair reflection of the action.
After a quiet start to the second-half, a collector’s item brought the game to life: a kick into space from prop Hannah Botterman. With the visitors retreating, Fleetwood forced the visitors into the concession of a penalty.
Sarries piled on the pressure but to no avail as Fleetwood was held up over the line, the latest Saracen to be denied.
Then with the pressure mounting and missed opportunities rued, Zoe Harrison received a yellow-card for a deliberate knock-on. Arguably a necessary intervention with Bristol racing towards the Sarries try line.
The visitors claimed another penalty further infield shortly after, yet rejected the three points on offer, a decision which proved costly. Fly-half Elinor Snowsill’s kick for touch drifted over the dead ball line and handed possession back to the hosts.
With an hour played and the game on a knife edge, a moment of individual brilliance changed the complexion of the tie.
With Sarries but seemingly going nowhere in the Bristol half, Wyrwas produced an ingenious chip and chase. The scrum-half timed her kick to perfection and beat the chasing Bears to score and hand Sarries a 14-5 lead.
Yet Bristol rallied again and spent much of the final quarter of the game in possession.
With just seven minutes left they were rewarded for their spell of dominance when substitute Ella Lovibond finished a move which had started inside the Bears half.
Flanker Alisha Butchers raced through a rare hole in the Sarries defence and carried her team all the way to the Sarries 22.
The try felt inevitable and Lovibold touched down in the corner before Reed added the extras to reduce the deficit back to two and set up an anxious finish.
But the score which finally saw off the Bears followed immediately. Sarries again forced a penalty at the breakdown and Harrison held her nerve to kick three vital points and secure a 17-12 victory.
Bristol head back down the M4 with a losing bonus point but that will feel like scant consolation after their first defeat of the season.
The win for the Women in Black provides a huge boost ahead of another mouth-watering encounter next Sunday, as Harlequins visit the StoneX for a London derby.
Written by Ben Hart.