Feb 17, 2018
Saracens Women share the spoils with Gloucester-Hartpury
In a superb advert for the Tyrrells Premier 15s competition Saracens Women and Gloucester-Hartpury Women played out a tense and entertaining 29-29 draw in round fifteen at Allianz Park on Saturday. Five tries apiece meant both sides left with three points for an attacking try bonus and the draw, maintaining Saracens Women’s lead ahead of Harlequins Women at the top of the table.
In glorious spring sunshine the crowd were entertained from the off with early exchanges testing each other’s defences. Well-controlled throughout by referee Joe James, the game established early a yo-yo pattern with the lead switching sides several times.
However it was Gloucester that made the first breakthrough in the ninth minute through Kelly Smith finishing a superb flowing move and overlapping the home defence to score in the corner.
That was the first time Saracens had gone behind at home all season and the blow electrified their attack to spring back into the contest just three minutes later with a scything break through the Cherry and White defensive wall by new England U20s fly-half and Player of the Match Helena Rowland. The finish under the posts set up a straightforward conversion for a 7-5 lead.
Gloucester bounced back into the lead almost immediately, exploiting some indecisive restart work from Sarries and spreading the ball wide to the eye-catching youngster Ellie Underwood to score the first of her three tries in the nineteenth minute. Underwood is on loan from local Gloucester side Drybrook RFC but looks the part for Premier 15s, holding width well and providing a constant pacey threat all game to the Saracens defence.
Saracens have fought hard to lead the league and immediately pressed the Gloucester defence hard, with Bryony Cleall particularly impressive with strong carrying hard into the Gloucester line. After several attacks were thwarted, Saracens managed to break over the line again, through England U20s prop El Perry driving over the line from short-range. Rowland converted to take the lead again at 12-10.
Yet again though Gloucester powered back into the lead, with a surging break through the heart of the Saracens defence and then quickly getting the ball through hands to Underhill to surge in for her second try. 12-15.
Saracens hit back again, emphasising the ebb and flow of the first half. Captain Lotte Clapp showing a finisher’s instinct to squeeze in at the corner after great work setting up the move from Cleall, Newman and Rowland.
17-15 at half-time reflected the tight first half. That tense battle continued into the second-half, with former captain Sonia Green finishing off some intense pressure on the Gloucester line to reach forward to claim the Saracens fourth and bonus point try. 22-15.
Saracens continued to pile on the pressure with a fifth try in the 62nd minute for the exciting 18 year centre Cara Wardle, cutting an incisive line back through the Gloucester defence to score under the posts after strong build-up play from Clapp. Rowland’s conversion made it 29-15 with only the final quarter to go.
However Gloucester were not beaten and showed huge determination to claw their way back into the game, assisted by a costly 69th minute sin-binning of Saracens lock Green. Underwood secured her third try and the away side’s attacking try bonus point before full-back Marie-Anne Gittings broke through the defence to get a fifth try in the corner. After her notable touch-line conversion tied the scores the scores were levelled at 29 all.
Despite six minutes of additional time played both sides remained locked in the draw and couldn’t secure the winning punch. Finally Rowland kicked the ball off and both sides took three points away.
Head Coach Rob Cain spoke after the game:
“What a rollercoaster ride that turned out to be today, we showed our best and worst qualities, expansive threatening ball-carrying with multiple options and scoring some great tries. Our fighting qualities were on show but we’re left frustrated with not only the points we left out there and the things we weren’t able to execute, but with the way we allowed Hartpury back into game and let a 14 point lead slip away.
“The sin bin didn’t help but as we knew Gloucester play high-tempo aggressive rugby. Their collision winners often dominated the contact area: defensively we weren’t good enough today, and too many times today we came off second-best in that area. On the other side, I’m so excited at how the team responded to each time we conceded and to battle back to a comfortable lead with 20 to go playing some great rugby of our own. Full credit to Hartpury, they played as if their play-off chances depended on it and due to our players work-rate we were lucky to hang onto the 3 points.”
Gloucester Hartpury Head Coach (and ex-Saracens player) Susie Appleby was equally reflective after the game, praising both sides for their commitment.
“Wow, what a game. We knew it would be a game of running rugby because it’s an amazing surface and both teams want to play rugby and both teams did, which was really positive. Both teams will be disappointed with the amount of mistakes they made however the turnovers meant the other team were able to capitalise and they did. We knew we had to come here to get something from today. We would love to had five points, but to get three and score five tries against a team that are top of the league is really pleasing for us….We’re hoping we can take this performance into Quins in two weeks and see what comes. We are fighting for fourth with the other teams in contention.”
Singling out Player of the Match Helena Rowland, Appleby commented that, “She has evolved already into a phenomenal controller of the game and she’s just 18 years old. It’s really exciting. We have got a young flanker today, Tabs Copson, who is just 17. The youth are the future of the game and it’s all so positive."