MATCH REPORT | Saracens Women 34-21 Loughborough Lightning
It may not have been pretty, but it was Saracens Women who were winning in the rain, as the defending champions got their campaign off to the perfect start.
Much has changed since that joyous afternoon at Sixways but the one thing that hasn’t is that winning feeling.
Despite the early promise from Saracens, it was the visitors who made the fast start after an early period of kick tennis. After probing in midfield, the ball was worked wide to Lauren Bolger, who raced over from halfway, with Emma Hardy converting for the perfect start.
Saracens though, worked themselves back into the contest almost instantly, with hooker May Campbell bagging the first of her three tries from the back of a rolling maul.
The match was turning into something of a cagey affair, as the heavens opened and the rain began to fall, forcing those watching in the stands to take shelter from the elements.
Loughborough were continuing to press and probe though, with a timely turnover from Sharifa Kasolo relieving the pressure.
The rain was dictating the play now, with both sides struggling to hold onto the slippery ball. With possession on their side, Cara Wardle and Coreen Grant nearly constructed a wonderful score, but Saracens wouldn’t have to wait long for their second, with Campbell burrowing over from close range to give her side the lead for the first time in the afternoon.
Whatever Alex Austerberry said to his side at half-time, it certainly seemed to do the trick, as Saracens raced out of the blocks. This time, it was Kelsey Clifford who pounced from close range, after a series of strong carries from the pack.
It would prove to be two tries in as many minutes for Saracens, as Campbell bagged her hattrick from the back of another maul, to take her side into a 17-point lead, with new signing Flo Williams adding the conversion.
Lightning refused to give in though and sensed their opportunity as Isla Alejandro was sent to the bin for an infringement at the breakdown.
Loughborough would make no mistake either from the resulting penalty, as Bolger bagged her second after a sweeping backs move.
A sense of nervousness descended on the stadium shortly after, as Bolger picked off a stray pass to race in for her hattrick, with Hardy’s conversion reducing the deficit to three points.
The pressure was beginning to build now, as Saracens continued to withstand the heavy pressure being inflicted on them.
Panic would set in as Georgina Tasker burst free in midfield, but the Saracens scramble defence held firm to secure what would prove to be a crucial turnover.
With little over ten minutes to go, it had become a game that was going to swing on the bounce of the ball.
That nearly came after Williams’ dink through, but it wasn’t to be, as the bounce of the rugby ball denied her a try.
Saracens were really turning the screw now, as they continued to force Loughborough back into their own 22. Whilst the visitors held out from the Saracens driving maul, they continued to infringe, with Hardy seeing yellow at the breakdown after a huge collision with Lotte Clapp.
Williams was on hand to steady the nerves with a simple penalty, but there would be one final flourish from Saracens as the clock hit 80.
Loughborough were desperate for any sort of possession, but proved to be masters of their own demise, as they conceded a penalty that allowed Williams to pump the ball back down into Loughborough territory.
From there, the pack made no mistake, with Georgia Evans barrelling over to seal the victory and deny Loughborough the losing bonus point. Williams again converted from out wide, to add some gloss to the final score.
On a challenging afternoon, packed with drama and intrigue, this was an important first victory for Saracens, as the side now look ahead to a London Derby against Wasps next Sunday.