Battling Saints fighting for their lives
Saracens’ performance gives Saints reason for optimism
OA Saints 7 Saracens 29
On a glorious march evening the Old Albanians Saints welcomed Saracens to Woollams for the second time this season.
The Saints were determined to put as much pressure as possible onto their opposition from the outset and showed good line speed in defence and physicality around the rucks and mauls to put the ladies in black under pressure.
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It was the Saints who dominated the opening 10 minutes but Saracens found their stride and the first half saw the game ebb and flow as neither side was able to dominate possession or keep the ball for a prolonged period of time. Lots of big hits were coming in from both sides as the sizeable crowd were treated to an intense and entertaining contest.
The visitors made the first breakthrough as they crashed over after a strong lineout with Sonia Green getting her name on the scoreboard.
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Earlier in the season this Saints side may have capitulated following the first score but as the season has progressed they are starting to show they feel at home at this level and the score only spurred them into action. Quick ruck ball from the forwards saw a slick movement in the backs as they worked their way into the Saracens 22. A chip ahead and pressure in defence lead to a mistake at the back and a charged down kick landed straight in the outstretched arms of centre Simone Shepherd who crashed over. Fly-half Sarah McKenna coolly slotted over the conversion and as the half time whistle went Saints took a deserved 7-5 lead into the changing rooms.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first, Saracens looking to impose themselves and break the Saints’ resistance.
The first real chance of the half fell to Saints as Sarah McKenna made a break from her own 22 and headed up the pitch and with only the winger chasing back a try looked certain if she could get the bal to her sister Claire on the wing. However the pass was just agonisingly out of reach and the Sarries were able to heave a huge sigh of relief. Driven into action by this scare Saracens put together a slick move from the ensuing scrum. Quick ball was brought back blind and good hands put the winger into space who weaved her way to the line to give Saracens the lead.
Saints were then struck by a double blow, influential centre Shepherd had to leave the field after a clash of heads and big hitting flanker Geri Thomas was sin binned as a trademark smash rode too high.
Down to 14 players and with a reshuffled back line containing two forwards the flood gates looked set to open. A determined defence doggedly held out though as Saracens began to dominate possession and territory. Just as it looked as though the Saints were going to hold out for the 10 minutes two tries were scored in quick succession as the visitors pick and go game around the fringes began to find yards. With the score at 24-7 as Thomas returned from the sin bin the OAs looked to go back on the attack. Their scrum was functioning well and the midfield was making yards and twice they came close but Saracens’ defence held strong. The visitors worked their way up the field and again came back down the blindside to put the winger in for her second of the match.
At 29-7 the match was over but Saints’ commitment wasn’t and they made one final attempt to cross the line. A break from skipper Leah Carey was carried on by hooker Nadia Brannon leading to a scrum deep in the Saracens 22. Fly-Half McKenna made a break but was held up short. The Saints continued to crash at the line and celebrated as prop Kat Brinsley crashed over but the referee unfortunately was unsighted and with no time for the five metre scrum he called time on a physical and entertaining game.
The win means Saracens maintain second place in the league and the performance means Saints will go into their last couple of games with confidence that they can get the two wins needed to try and keep their place amongst women’s rugby elite.