Apr 13, 2019
Match report: Bristol Bears 23-21 Saracens
Ian Madigan’s last-gasp penalty cruelly denied Saracens victory at Ashton Gate as Bristol Bears helped their survival cause with a 23-21 win.
Mark McCall’s men had led by a single point heading into the game’s dying moments after replacement Ralph Adams-Hale had touched down with 12 minutes remaining.
But it was Bristol who were on top in the final minute and although Sarries looked solid in defence after several phases, they conceded a penalty right in front that Madigan dispatched.
The Bears looked alive early as hooker Harry Thacker eluded several tackles to make a break into the Sarries half, Will Skelton finally bringing him down as the danger was averted.
Sarries fired their first shot in attack on five minutes when Max Malins’ wirey break forced a penalty from Bristol, although Alex Goode’s resulting effort went just wide.
Malins was the architect again on nine minutes when Sarries had their first try, the fly-half running the ball back through a gap in the scattered Bristol defence before passing inside to Tom Whiteley, who ran in unchallenged.
The hosts though narrowed the gap through a Callum Sheedy penalty on 12 minutes after a high tackle by Michael Rhodes, before Goode saw a penalty go just wide.
The Saracens defence then did excellently to twice stop a Bristol driving maul from getting over the try line, forcing an error on each occasion.
But a scrum penalty went the way of the hosts just before half-time allowing Sheedy to reduce the deficit to just a point.
Bristol drew first blood after the break as Mat Protheroe’s break set up Steve Luatua to go in under the posts, Sheedy converting for a 13-7 lead.
McCall then rang the changes on 50 minutes as Jamie George, Adams-Hale, Vincent Koch, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were all sent on.
And they made an instant impact as the forward pack produced a solid driving maul that Bristol brought down illegally twice – Harry Thacker going to the bin for his troubles – before Marcelo Bosch joined the back and dotted down at the third attempt.
The Bears though responded yet again when John Afoa went straight through a hole in the Sarries defence and fed Dan Thomas to go in under the posts.
Adams-Hale’s score, coming from some excellent speed in attack from the visitors and Goode’s conversion put Sarries in the driving seat as the lead switched hands once again but Madigan had the last word.