Gallagher Premiership Rugby: Saracens two from two after bonus point win over Bristol Bears
PUBLISHED: 18:03 08 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:09 08 September 2018
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Saracens maintained their perfect start to the Gallagher Premiership season with a 44-23 success over a Bristol Bears side who spent much of the second half with 14 men.
Despite scoring the first try in the opening five minutes, the Allianz Park outfit were left to rue a series of missed chances in a stuttering first half as they trailed at the break.
However, Sarries started brightly after the interval and took full advantage of a red card for visiting flanker George Smith to run out comfortable winners in the end.
The north Londoners made three changes to their starting XV after last weekend’s win at Newcastle Falcons, two of which were enforced.
Wings David Strettle and Sean Maitland were both injured in the north east and replaced by Matt Gallagher and Alex Lewington respectively.
The other change saw Ben Spencer, a late withdrawal from last weekend’s starting XV because of illness, replace Richard Wigglesworth at scrum-half.
Gallagher made an early impression on the match, running in the opening try in the fifth minute after being played in by Alex Goode, with Owen Farrell converting.
Bristol, though, recovered to level six minutes later when a dink from Callum Sheedy went over the head of Lewington and into the arms of wing Alapati Leuia, who ran in to score with Sheedy adding the extras to tie the game at 7-7.
Two penalties from Sheedy then put Bears ahead, before two from Farrell drew Sarries level in the final minute of the half.
It seemed the sides would go into the interval all square, but after Farrell’s second penalty, Sione Vailanu fumbled the restart in his own 22.
That gifted the visitors a late scrum, from which they took full advantage by first winning it, then shifting it left for Vailanu to score in the corner.
Though Sheedy missed the conversion, it handed Pat Lam’s men an 18-13 lead heading down the tunnel.
Mark McCall would have had stern words for the hosts, but they seemed to do the trick as after a sustained period of pressure early in the second half, Lewington went over for an unconverted score to tie the game again in the 44th minute.
The major talking point came five minutes later when, after consulting the video screen, referee Andrew Jackson deemed Smith had illegally used his shoulder when tackling Jackson Wray and gave the Bristol man his marching orders.
Sarries opted for a scrum from the penalty, with replacement Billy Vunipola peeling off the back of it to score a try which Farrell converted as the north Londoners led 25-18.
Replacement Liam Williams then secured the bonus point for the Allianz Park outfit when crossing in the 53rd minute with his first involvement since coming on.
The Welsh wing added his second try of the game in the 70th minute when barging over from close range, with Farrell converting to make it 37-18.
Nick Haining secured something of a consolation score for Bears three minutes later, chasing his own kick to score after Goode had misjudged the initial kick from Tom Pincus.
However, it was Sarries who would have the final say as a delightful kick from Farrell to the wing found Williams, who gleefully ran in for his hat-trick two minutes from time.
In the end, it was a comfortable success for Saracens, but one that will add to their confidence ahead of visiting Northampton Saints next Saturday.
Saracens: Goode; Gallagher, Lozowski, Barritt (Tompkins 67), Lewington (Williams 52); Farrell, Spencer (Wigglesworth 52); Vunipola (Barrington 64), George (Tolofua 71), Koch (Lamositele 64); Itoje, Isiekwe; Rhodes, Wray (Skelton 49), Vailanu (Vunipola 45).
Bristol: O’Conor; Morahan, Hurrell (Pincus (HIA) 56-64), Piutau, Leiua (Pincus 64); Sheedy (Madigan 52), Uren (Randall 52); Lay (Woolmore 55), Thacker (Malton 50), Thiede (Afoa 13); Holmes (Joyce 55), Latta; Luatua (Haining 55), Smith, Lam.
Referee: Andrew Jackson.