SARACENS WOMEN 18/19 SEASON REVIEW: PART TWO
While the final month of 2018 had been characterised by Saracens Women showing their overwhelming all-round game, the start of 2019 was about the Women in Black showing how much they’d learned from their defeat to Quins earlier in the season.
The new year brought a familiar challenge in the form of Harlequins Ladies as the defending champions welcomed them to Allianz Park in January.
With just five minutes remaining it looked like the visitors would be going home with the full five points but Saracens Women pulled back a 28-12 deficit with three tries and two conversions giving them an exciting and memorable 31-28 win.
The next two matches before the Women’s Six Nations break also proved to be close affairs with Saracens Women going out to good leads before having to defend well to hold off the opposition.
First was a trip to the West Country as they held off a strong finish from Gloucester-Hartpury Women in a 34-28 win.
Fullback Sarah McKenna continued her outstanding form with two tries and highlighted why she’s made the England 15 jersey her own this season.
Then it was another West Country outfit in Bristol Bears Ladies who almost pulled off an upset as they came back from 17-0 down to take the score to 17-14. However, a home team shorn of its international stars did well to take the winning run to 10 matches.
The first match back in the TP15s after an eight-week break due to the Women’s Six Nations would be against third placed Loughborough Lightning and both teams welcomed backed their England Grand Slam winners.
The first 33 minutes from Saracens Women was some of the best rugby they’d played all season as they went out to a 19-0 lead.
Early in the second half they led 24-7 but a comeback from the home team left them 28-24 down with three minutes remaining. The visitors were not to be undone though as they regained possession from the kick-off and eventually powered over to leave Loughborough as 31-28 winners.
The regular season was brought to a close at Allianz Park at the end of March as a much-changed home team produced some terrific rugby in front a vocal home crowd against Firwood Waterloo Ladies.
The 64-0 win cemented Saracens Women’s place at the top of the league as the season moved into the play-offs.
Meanwhile, the Saracens Women Development team been making their own push for honours. The Development team made a solid start to the season but two defeats in four games to Wasps and Bristol halted that momentum.
That defeat to Bristol on Saturday 17th November would prove to be the final defeat of the season, not only for the Development team, but for the Saracens Women club.
The Dev team would go on an eleven-match winning run till the end of the season to finish one point ahead of Wasps in the table.
They didn’t have it all their own way though with close wins over Gloucester-Hartpury and Bristol Bears in January keeping them in the hunt for top spot before an important 44-24 win away to Wasps took them to the top of the table.
With just one point separating first and second, and with Wasps having a superior points difference, it was vital for the Dev team to continue their winning and pick up bonus points along the way.
The crunch tie proved to be away to Loughborough with Sarries scoring a fourth try in the final play to win 26-0 and all but secure the title, which they duly did with a 62-0 win at home to Firwood Waterloo.
April was play-off month for Saracens Women. The First team had finished top of the table on 84 points, seven ahead of nearest rivals Harlequins.
This ensured the team would have a home semi-final, where they faced fourth-place Wasps FC Ladies on Saturday 13th April.
Season ending injuries to Bryony Cleall, Vicky Fleetwood and Marlie Packer meant that Sarries would be without three of the pack that had helped them secure their place in the play-offs.
However, the squad’s depth came to the fore in the play-offs with the likes of Chrissy Siczowa, Lauren Newman, Jodie Rettie and Kat Robinson stepping up in the absence of the big-name players.
Wasps pushed Saracens hard in the semi-final but the home team’s incisive attacking edge and scrambling defence proved key.
The home team ran out 31-13 winners, with tries for Jodie Rettie, Lotte Clapp, Poppy Cleall, Hannah Botterman and Rosie Galligan securing Sarries’ place in the final.
Harlequins Ladies would face Saracens Women in a repeat of last season’s final, won by the defending champions 24-20.
Quins had inflicted the only defeat of the season on Sarries and were also packed full of international talent from England, Scotland, USA and Australia.
Saracens had conceded the least amount of points all season while Quins had scored the most, with both ties this season being decided by just three points.
Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton would host the final and on Saturday 27th April, a crowd of over 2500 saw Saracens Women produce their best 40 minutes of the season as they finished the first half 27-0 up.
No.8 Poppy Cleall and Zoe Harrison both bagged a brace of tries while some lovely handling from the pack gave winger Sydney Gregson the chance to finish off in the corner.
Cleall produced one of the individual performances of the season and received the Player of the Match award, though the likes of Harrison, Rosie Galligan, Hannah Botterman, Lauren Cattell and El Perry weren’t far behind in an outstanding team effort.
As expected, Quins came back in the second half with tries by Vickii Cornborough and Rachael Burford, allied to successful kicking by Emily Scott keeping them in the game.
However, two penalties by Harrison ensured that Saracens ran out relatively comfortable winners with a final score of 33-17 confirming that the Tyrrells Premier 15s trophy would be at Allianz Park for another year.