Rugby Union: Perfect timing of Saracens

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Bristol 20

Saracens 37

CALM, perfect conditions promised a high-scoring match and the desire of both sides to run the ball provided a thrilling spectacle of attacking rugby, although 42 of the 57 points were scored in the first half.

Saracens, second in the championship and the only realistic pursuers of the leaders, Newcastle, were probably heartened by the arrival of the home side on to the pitch to the strains of "Mission Impossible". The selector of the music no doubt doubles as a soothsayer in Bristol as relegation is more probable than possible and Saracens added to their woes by scoring twice in the first five minutes.

Michael Lynagh cheekily tapped a penalty 40 yards from the Bristol line after ambling up to the ball as if the decision to kick at goal had been taken. His quick thinking left Bristol static as the ball was spun out, Richard Hill laying on the final pass to Richard Wallace who scored in the corner. The unflappable Lynagh added the conversion from the touchline before Wallace added his second just two minutes later.

This try was testament to the quality of handling throughout the Saracens side as the ball passed through 21 pairs of hands in five phases before an overlap allowed Wallace to run in unchallenged. Twelve points in five minutes and Bristol had hardly touched the ball, but on their first foray deep into Saracens territory they delivered a cheering counter punch to Saracens' early supremacy.

Again the ball was kept in the hands and with the ball being recycled quickly from the breakdowns Bristol were able to stretch the Saracens defence, Adam Larkin sprinting to the corner to record the score.

As a start to a match it was breathtaking and the next attack of note was no less dynamic; Danny Grewcock's method, however, was not so much ball in hand as clenched fist on head. He landed at least five blows and was lucky only to see yellow from the referee who added a further two yellow cards in the 58th minute when Chad Eagle kicked Wallace. The Irish winger remained true to his earlier form, preferring speed and hands in delivering a retaliatory punch. As excellent around the pitch as Tony Diprose was, he seemed to spend a lot of time being spoken to by the referee for his side's indiscretions.

Often there were minor infringements and Mark Evans, Saracens' director of rugby, is fully aware of their potential damage. "If I thought we were a dirty team, then it would cause me some concern. I didn't think we lost it today collectively but you have to be aware that ill-discipline could cost you dear," he said.

With a title at stake it certainly could, but the true spirit of yesterday's game was the rugby, with defence being switched to attack at exhilarating speed, perfectly exemplified when Rob Jones broke clear into the Saracens half in the 27th minute, turned the ball over and fewer than 20 seconds later Kyran Bracken was under the posts courtesy of a surging run down the wing by Ryan Constable.

Weary handling terminated many scoring opportunities as the game progressed, but in truth Saracens had done enough in the first half. Bristol fought valiantly but their plight is looking increasingly desperate with every week. Their director of rugby, Alan Davies, accepted as much when he said: "Our chance of survival might be if they increase the division to 14 teams." Their fighting spirit deserves more, but he might be right.

Bristol: J Lewsey; D Tiueti, A Larkin, K Maggs, P Hull; P Burke, R Jones (capt; G Baber, 72); M Morgan (A Collins, 48), F Landreau, K Fullman, C Eagle, T Deverie, D Corkery, E Rollitt, C Short.

Saracens: M Singer; R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).

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