Saracens were back at The Stonex Stadium and back to a Premiership Rugby game, without their England Internationals, but with a few of their internationals from other Home Nations in the match day squad. The head coaches of Wales and Scotland must be biting their nails with several of their picks playing in the Premiership this weekend.

Ralph Adams-Hale and Ollie Stonham were interviewed before the game and asked how it could be possible that this Bristol team, still chock full go stars were sitting at the bottom of the league with just 3 wins win 11 games and a negative points difference of 95. He rightly felt that games could turn on small moments and again this was a prophetic conversation.

This was a big day for one Jackson Wray, making his 300th appearance for the team of his boyhood, he was interestingly born in Sunderland but grew up in Essex. He played for his school King John School in Benfleet, moving on to Westcliff RFC, Barking RFC and Bedford Blues before joining Saracens he represented England at b both U16’s and U20’s but was never picked for the senior team. That was in spite of putting in regular Man of The Match performances for Saracens. He’s a man who always gives his all for this club and his team mates. He ran on to deserved applause and cheers, with his 4 children. He signed a contract in 2020 which took him to the end of this season; it’ll be interesting to see what happens for next season, he’s had more than his fair share of concussions and at 32 may be looking. at a different future.

A much changed Saracens team saw Manu Vunipola staring at 10, he’s been on the bench for a couple of weeks but hasn’t featured, Theo Dan on the other hand has twice come on as a Back Row replacement, a bit harsh on the Hooker. For this match he had his first start with Number 2 on his back. He was opposite one off Bristol’s best players Harry Thacker. It was great tp see Rotimi Segun back at last after injury, the speedy Winger has been missed. On the bench was Francois Hougaard, a short term signing he would be making his debut; he moved from Worcester to Wasps in the 2021-22 season, so he was between. rock and a hard place career wise. A talented scrum half he’s played on the Wing of late. In looking at this Wikipedia page he’s aiming to become a Golf Pro, but in the meantime is at Stonex to do a job for Saracens.

Billy Vunipola made 50 valuable metres, and kept his temper on an even keel

Bristol very much had the best of the first half and held the home team scoreless, a very unusual state of affairs, Saracens certainly didn’t get away with not conceding penalties and overall gave away 16; they seem to be getting pinged in the ruck on a regular basis this season and this match was no exception!

AJ MacGinty got the scoreboard rolling after one such penalty after 11 minutes; Semi Radradra looked to have scored on 24 minutes, the PRL TV commentator had called a forward knock in real time and the officials went back and concurred, the try was wiped off. Bristol made a great break after a Saracens line out throw went above every Saracens player, Radrada and ex-Harlequins Winger, Gabe Ibitoye both making ground, a good pass out to Richard Lane saw him soar down the wing, Aled Davis missed his tackle bit Duncan Taylor took him to the ground, he chose to roll over a couple of times and was penalised, giving Saracens a chance to clear their lines. It was interesting that Alex Goode took all of the kicking duties on the day rather than Vunipola. James Williams the Bristol Centre repeated the rolling error close to the Saracens line minutes later. The penalty didn’t make touch, always a schoolboy error that!

This effort was wiped off for a knock on in the build up

There are no separate stats for each half that I can find, but it felt like Saracens didn’t have much attacking possession in the first 40, hence the lack of points.. It took until the 36th minute for the scoreboard to be bothered again. A try for Harry Thacker, just after a fairly long spell of treatment for the Hooker, with his knee being heavily strapped. A player who’s really made his mark at Bristol, I’ve always thought it was a mistake for Leicester Tigers to let him go. Saracens had given away a couple of penalties in the red area and were lucky not to at least receive a warning. Thacker went over at the 3rd attempt, his 31st try in his career and 6th of this season. The conversion was missed, but Bristol went in at half-time with a deserved 8 point lead.

There was some confusion as the second half started as Bristol seemed to have 2 Fly Halves on the pitch, Callum Sheedy had looked poised to go on just before half-time and jumped the gun as the second 40 started. That was soon remedied. Bristol extended their lead 8 minutes into the half with a kick from James Williams, the Centre had showed from Hartpury in July 2022 and showed how useful his kicking boot is during this half.

Goode had missed a first half penalty and an opportunity 2 minutes into the second rebounded off the posts. It was Williams who extended the Bristol lead with a penalty on 48 minutes, still no score for the home team. That penalty was from a scrum, an area Bristol seemed to have the advantage in, I couldn’t. understand why Saracens didn’t move the ball quickly when it was their put in, To the joy of the home fans Saracens a penalty was kicked by Gooder on 51 minutes, the zero had gone!

Bristol were awarded a penalty just inside Saracens half a couple pf minutes later and Williams showed his mettle by booting the ball through the Post with some ease! A very good signing for Bristol clearly. They now had a lead of 11 with 26 minutes to play.

James Williams kicked 2 good penalties

Theo Dan gave Saracens fans some hope on 57 minutes as he kept hold of there ball at the back of a maul, van Zyl had gone to take the ball from him, but he held on tight as a couple of others detached and stormed towards the line. Goode converted and the lead was down to 3.

Goode kicked the ball out on the full giving Bristol a good attacking platform, but it was 10 more minutes before we saw another score. Gabe Ibitoye is a player I watched as a 17 year old at Quins, he seems to have spent a bit of time in the gym, without losing any of his speed. Saracens were put on a warning with 69 minutes on the clock after conceding another couple of penalties close to their line. But Ibitoye took a lovely pass from Radrada to take a short run in to score, he ran closer to the posts to make the kick an easier one. Williams missed a much easier kick however.

Gabe Ibitoye in some fine form

At that point with less than 10 minutes to go and a 9 point deficit I was hoping Saracens counsel get the losing bonus point, you’d think I’d know this team, especially this season, better. Duncan Taylor sadly left the pitch with just over 5 minutes remaining, he looked to be in some difficulty. Extra tall and slim Lock Cameron Boon came on as a replacement. He of course went into the Forwards, Andy Christie taking a place amongst the Backs, he wouldn’t look too out of place starting in the Centre.

Segun had the best of returns as he scored a hugely valuable try after a wonder pass from Goode, who flicked the ball out of the back of his hand; there was a suspicion that he lost control as he grounded the ball but the officials were happy; the TMO did check it. The conversion missed, leaving a 4 point gap. Saracens surely couldn’t get a last minute win again could they?

A perfect return for Rotimi Segun

Well yes they could! A match wining try for short term signing Hougaard; Replacement 9 for Bristol Andy Uren had box kicked to give Saracens possession, they then won a penalty to give them better field position. Tom Ellis who’d been announced as a short term signing for Saracens bearing in mind their second row woes took the ball in the Kline out. Another penalty put Saracens 5 metres from the Bristol line; Wray talking the ball this time, the forwards did tenor thing before the ball went out to Manu Vunipola who delayed his pass to Goode, who broke Bristol hearts with a pass out to Hougaard who scored the try! Ecstasy for the home fans and total heartbreak for the Bristol fans, the poor lad sitting next to me pulled his hat over his eyes. Bristol have never won at The Stonex, they were so close, but this Saracens team just don’t give up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.