Rugby Union: Saracens stung by Bracken

Bristol 21 Saracens 7
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It is difficult to see how Saracens can now escape from the hole which they have spent so much of this season digging for themselves. They will have to beat Gloucester next week to have any chance of First Division survival while Bristol, two points ahead and with a game in hand, can feel reasonably secure, despite a disturbing propensity for overgenerosity towards the opposition.

It was that kind of a match. A dogfight contested by two mediocre sides at the fag end of the season. It was fraught and frantic with too much drearily repetitive kicking, enlightened on occasions by the mesmeric running of Kyran Bracken, the single class act on the field.

Normally, Anthony Diprose can be included in that category but yesterday he had a shocker. It was his wildly-directed tap at the back of a line- out which led to Bracken's try on the stroke of half-time. From the ensuing muddle in Saracens' midfield, David Hinkins thundered towards the line and Bracken jinked through for the try.

It was no more than Bracken deserved following his initiation of a number of threatening attacks during a first half in which Saracens had enjoyed huge territorial advantage. But, as they had done against Bath last week, Saracens squandered their possession in the backs and lost their scoring opportunities through poor goal kicking.

Gareth Hughes, continuing his wretched form of last week, missed three kickable penalties at a time when Saracens urgently required a comforting cushion for their evaporating confidence and as a hedge against the increasing authority of the Bristol forwards.

In this respect Garath Archer, temporarily reunited with the club and, for the moment at least, forgiven for rejecting them in favour of Rob Andrew's Newcastle, played an influential role at the line-out, working in sweet harmony with Mark Regan, who played forcefully in the tight and in the loose where he popped up on the wing to score Bristol's second try.

But if Archer is to further his promising career he will first have to take a grip on what is at present an uncontrollably fiery temper. A yellow card, his third of the season, means that in all probability he will spend the first part of his career with Newcastle inactive. "Garath is similar to a New Zealand-style forward, but he is not playing in New Zealand and his approach calls for more restraint," the Bristol coach Brian Hanlon said later.

Saracens were given a glimpse of a chance to save themselves early in the second half as a result of a dreadful cock-up between Ralph Knibbs and DaveTiueti which allowed Richard Hill to score.

They also came close to profiting from further defensive frailties in the closing minutes when the energetic Kris Chesney was denied by the perverse bounce of the ball. But with Mark Tainton having earlier kicked three penalties and the conversion of Bracken's try, Saracens were made painfully aware of the most basic fact of rugby life - that no side can hope to succeed without a reliable kicker.

Bristol: R Knibbs; B Breeze, S Martin, K Maggs, D Tiueti; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp (capt), M Regan, D Hinkins, P Adams, G Archer, M Corry, E Rollitt, I Dixon.

Saracens: M Singer; K Chesney, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, M Gregory; G Hughes, B Davies (capt); G Holmes, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Burrow, T Copsey, E Halvey, A Diprose, R Hill.

Referee: N Cousins (London).