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“To give the players some credit our second-half performance was way better, albeit against 14 men. But for us that performance isn’t good enough. We need to be better.”

Mark McCall

Saracens overcame a mixed first half showing to return to Allianz Park with a 44-23 win over Bristol Bears this afternoon, who put in a hard-fought performance despite being reduced to 14 men early in the second half.

While Saracens kicked off the game in style, opening the scoring with a try after just five minutes, the home side failed to get in to their rhythm in the opening forty as Bristol worked their way to a half time advantage.

The opening ten minutes of the game certainly belonged to Saracens as a well worked try saw Saracens overpower Bristol physically to move the ball to the line before it was fed out wide by Farrell first to Goode, who offloaded to Gallagher who duly dotted down in the corner.

It seemed the home side were taking an early grasp on the fixture until, somewhat against the run of play, Bristol equalised shortly after with a lovely piece of play that saw Callum Sheedy pick out Leiua on the wing with cross field kick, allowing the winger to run over for the score.

The pressure from the Bears was mounting as they look the lead with a penalty kick from Callum Sheedy as Saracens struggled with discipline in parts of their game.

The home side were still creating chances though and a smart run from Alex Goode with 15 minutes left to play in the half put Saracens in a excellent position in the Bristol 22. Despite working the ball along the line Saracens were unable to convert the opportunity in to points as the Bears closed in, extinguishing the pace from the Saracens attack until the ball was turned over.

They might have been first to concede an early try but Bristol seemed to have tipped the balance of play in their favour as Saracens struggled to find their rhythm as the half progressed. Keen to capitalise on their advantage the Bears opted for a long range kick when Saracens were penalised on the half way mark and Sheedy hit the mark to extend the visitors lead to 6 points.

Saracens cut the deficit with a penalty of their own and while Owen Farrell drew the sides level towards the end of the half a second try from Bristol’s Leiua returned the lead to the visitors with the clock in the red.

What ever was said at half time in the home dressing room clearly had the desired effect on the home side. The men in black came out firing on all cylinders, pulling themselves level with the Bears when Alex Lewington crossed over on his home debut.

It was on the 50 minute mark that the game perhaps really shifted though as Bristol were dealt a heavy blow when flanker George Smith went high on his tackle on Jackson Wray and was shown red by referee Andrew Jackson. Saracens capitalised on their numerical advantage almost immediately as Billy Vunipola, returning to action from injury, broke free from the scrum and made a bee-line for the whitewash. Farrell converted and the Men in Black were back in front to the delight of the home crowd. Another score followed within minutes; Liam Williams this time the scorer as Saracens claimed the bonus point.

In developing their re-brand earlier this year Bristol opted for the Bear as their crest as it was “emblematic of leadership, of strength and confidence, of standing against adversity and taking action”. Faced with suddenly trailing by 12 points early in the second half the Bears brought their brand identity to life and would have pulled back a score had it not been for the efforts of Vincent Koch and Liam Williams who dived in to prevent Piers O’Conner from stretching over to the try line.

Despite real fight from the visitors they could not do enough to prevent a fifth score from the Men in Black, and a second for winger Liam Williams, who took advtange of an overlap on the wing to score. Bristol’s resilience did not go unrewarded though when Nick Haining crashed over to pull the scores back to 37-23.

A final, and hat-trick, score for Liam Williams wrapped things up at Allianz Park. The Welshman crossing with minutes left on the clock to put the game firmly out of Bristol’s reach.

Final score 44-23 to the home side; a strong opening home victory but the Men in Black will surely feel there is still room for improvement next weekend as they travel to Franklin’s Gardens to take on Northampton Saints.

Match highlights

Highlights | Saracens Men 44-23 Bristol Bears (Round 2)

Highlights | Saracens Men 44-23 Bristol Bears (Round 2)

Duration 5m

Watch our extended highlights after Saracens claimed their second bonus point win of the season against Bristol Bears at Allianz Park