May 08, 2017
Saracens Women’s European showcase a success
A fierce second half come back from Saracens Women wasn’t enough to overturn a strong start from Stade Rennais as they fell short in a thrilling match in Dunkerque on Saturday. The Premiership and Top 8 clash was the highlight of the DK Sevens Tournoi Feminin International and is hoped will pave the way for future women’s European club fixtures.
Retiring prop and Saracens stalwart Kerrie-Ann Craddock was given the honour of leading out her team in front of a packed stadium and a vocal crowd on Saturday evening in the first meeting between the two sides. Saracens came out of the blocks fastest, applying early pressure on their French opposition in the opening ten minutes however it was Stade Rennais who crossed the whitewash first through Italian international Ilaria Arrighetti. Some quick thinking from a penalty, a nifty kick over the top and a spot of luck with the bounce put the French side ahead against the run of play. Stade began to build in confidence and took advantage of the strong wind to keep Sarries pinned for long periods. They struck for their second following a well worked catch and drive from the lineout to rumble over on the eighteen minute mark.
Saracens were reduced to 14 when Charlotte Barras was dismissed for ten minutes as she strayed offside at the breakdown and Stade Rennais swiftly took advantage of the overlap to score in the corner. France 7s Development Team player Valentino Lothoz went over for their fourth after April Brown’s clearance kick got caught up in the blustering headwind allowing Stade Rennais to go on the attack and score despite an apparent knock on. Sarries could have found themselves another couple of scores down were it not for the wolfpack defence of Lauren Newman; the winger tracking across from her opposite flank to make a number of bonecrunching crucial tackles to keep her side in the contest.
Milena Buzenet further added to Sarries woes as she sliced through to take the score to 29-0 after 35 minutes. The Women in Black responded on the stroke of half time as they enjoyed some ball in hand to test the Stade Rennais defence. A series of infringements from the French side allowed Sarries to gain valuable territory and the opportunity to pressure the line with No8 Bryony Cleall coming away with the score after some solid work from the pack.
Rob Cain’s side found themselves 29-5 down going into the break and with a mountain to climb in the second forty, however the visitors came out a side reborn with a renewed energy. Tenacious work from the pack gifted Sarries a scrum penalty which Cleall pounced upon to crash over four minutes into the half. Much as it was all Stade Rennais in the first half, it was one way traffic for Sarries in the second period as they took advantage of the conditions to keep their opponents under the pump. Emma Uren showed what a threat she can be as she as she took on the French team’s defence and Cathy Freeman was superb at fullback in her first game back after a lengthy layoff.
Flanker Kat Evans got herself on the scoreboard as Sarries began to turn the screw and find cracks in a physical Stade Rennais defence to reduce the deficit as the clock ticked down. Craddock looked to be in for a try in her final run out as she made a break but was dragged down short, however Sarries responded quickly and reloaded for Player of the Match Cleall to notch up her hat trick in the dying seconds. Twenty unanswered points in the second half was a valiant effort from the London side but not enough to overturn Stade Rennais as the clock ran into the red.
Speaking after the match, Rob Cain said: “What a great advert for both French and English club rugby! We firstly need to thank everyone involved in making this fixture happen and to everyone for coming out to support. The whole experience will benefit so many of our players, from playing in front such a vocal and loud crowd to some making their debuts or first team starts with many being tested in different positions – there are so many positives. The first half we knew that it would take us time to find our rhythm with so many debuts and new combinations but the real difference was the strong wind allowing Stade Rennais to relive pressure easily and change momentum. We showed so much character from the whole group to come out in the second half and score twenty unanswered points. We turned our breakdown and ball carrying into being so physically dominant and forced the tempo of the game, and that was some of our best contact work all season. We ran out of time in the end and it wasn't enough for the win but everyone took their opportunities to round off a thrilling match. The players have now earned themselves a well deserved break before we get going again and look ahead to the new season.”