Rugby Union: Lynagh leads by example to deepen Bristol crisis

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The Independent Online
Saracens 31 Bristol 9

Saracens came within a whisker, or to be more precise, a penalty kick of the leadership of the Premiership yesterday. A margin of 25 points would have lifted them to the top of the table, but they did at least preserve their unbeaten league record, poor consolation as that will be. And Kyran Bracken made an immediate impact when he came on for the last 10 minutes to reassure everyone of his fitness.

The worrying thing is that they again failed to capitalise on their obvious all-round superiority. They allowed Bristol to come back at them too often, thus creating extra work for the defence, which was, as usual, superlative. Well marshalled by their player-coach, Francois Pienaar, they held out for long periods close to their own line.

These are troubled times for Bristol with no backer, a worried squad who should be concentrating on playing rather than financial matters, and an AGM tonight at which a once shipshape club could well founder.

Things are not much better on the pitch. Bristol were outclassed by Saracens, for whom Michael Lynagh scored two tries, made two more and landed three conversions for a personal tally of 16 points.

No matter how dexterous they were in the loose, and Bristol frequently tore ragged holes through the home defences in broken play, when they got within sniffing distance of the line Saracens pulled out some stupendous stops.

Bristol had been caught cold in the third minute. They expected Lynagh to take a shot at goal when they were penalised for offside, instead he tapped to himself and darted through. It was the former Australian stand- off who set up the Saracens full-back, David Thompson, for a try on his full debut. Midway through the second half a cross kick found winger Matt Singer unmarked on the right.

Lynagh scored the fifth try after selling a dummy and smashing his way through a crowd of Bristol legs.

In between all this Pienaar helped himself to a gift of a try when Bristol's Josh Lewsey collided with Steve Ravenscroft under a high kick, neither player was able to retrieve the ball, but Pienaar, lurking as ever close to the epicentre of the action, snaffled it up and charged unopposed to the line.

All Bristol had to show for an afternoon's work was three penalty kicks by Paul Burke and a huge amount of wasted effort by a courageous pack.

Saracens: Tries Lynagh 2, Thompson, Pienaar, Singer; Conversions Lynagh 3. Bristol: Penalties Burke 3.

Saracens: D Thompson; M Singer, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; M Lynagh, B Free (K Bracken, 70); B Reidy, G Botterman, 60), P Wallace (A Olver, 11), D Grewcock, T Copsey (P Johns, 60), A Bennett, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt).

Bristol: J Lewsey (I Jones, 58); D Tiueti, P Hull, K Maggs, S Jones; P Burke, R Jones (capt); A Poole (A Collins, 23-41), K Dunn, K Fullman, P Adams, C Eagle, S Pearce (J Brownrigg, 45-58), C Short (J Brownrigg, 77), E Rollitt.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham).