Jackson's boot sends poor Bristol stumbling to defeat

Bristol 16 Saracens 23
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The Independent Online

Poor old Bristol. The Premiership's bottom club had plenty of ball at the Memorial Ground last night, and they were not short of balls either, but their chronic inability to break down any half-organised defence betrayed them yet again. For all the fire and fury generated by their captain, the deeply committed breakaway forward Joe El Abd, they disappeared up more blind alleys than a drunk lost in a maze. Saracens did not have to do much for their victory.

The Bristol public must have feared the worst from the start. Their side had come up short in each of their four previous outings – Richard Hill, their coach, may have made all the right noises in his weekly responses to these disappointments, but not even he could not disguise the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" anguish in his voice – while Saracens had shown clear signs of top-table form in their narrow defeat at Sale and their subsequent bonus-point thumping of Newcastle. A zip-five return from the first tranche of league fixtures was always more of a probability than a possibility for the West Countrymen.

Despite a predictably vigorous opening from their forward pack, with the aggressive tight-head prop Jason Hobson in a dark mood and the Tongan flanker Alfie To'oala positively lethal in the big-hit tackle department, they still looked eminently beatable. Both Arscott brothers, Tom and Luke, had their half-chances, but by and large, their attacking work carried all the threat of a wet halibut.

Saracens, on the other hand, looked full of points, even though they were less than sated on the possession front. Their one significant attack of the opening quarter forced Bristol into a lengthy goal-line stand that appeared to have been successful when Neil Brew clattered Kameli Ratuvou, forcing the Fijian wing into a knock-on at the sticks. Unfortunately for the home side, they promptly allowed themselves to be wheeled at the scrum and conceded the put-in. From the next set-piece, Glen Jackson set off on the simplest of loop moves to send Ratuvou in at the corner.

Bristol responded soon enough when David Lemi, their one high-class runner, finished a concerted assault on the Saracens line by beating Steve Borthwick's last-ditch tackle. Adrian Jarvis converted and added a penalty to open up a five-point lead, but Jackson replied with two penalties of his own and might have given the visitors a more substantial interval advantage by sending Ratuvou stampeding into the opposition 22. As it happened, Ratuvou's scoring pass to Hugh Vyvyan hit the deck.

Jackson did extend the one-point lead with a third penalty early in the second period, and kept on extending it at regular intervals. Meanwhile, Jarvis and Ed Barnes were missing their own kicking opportunities. Barnes finally hit the spot after Ben Skirving, the Saracens blind-side flanker, was sent to the sin bin for some sharp practice on the floor, and managed a second goal late on to secure a losing bonus point.

Bristol: Try Lemi; Conversion Jarvis; Penalties Barnes 2. Saracens: Try Ratuvou; Penalties Jackson 5; Drop goal Jackson.

Bristol: L Arscott; T Arscott, N Brew, E Barnes, D Lemi; A Jarvis, G Beveridge; A Clarke, S Linklater, J Hobson (P Bracken, 62), M Sambucetti (R Sidoli, 59), N Budgett, A To'oala, J El Abd (capt), D Ward-Smith (A Blowers, 59).

Saracens: R Haughton (M Rauluni, h-t); R Penney, K Sorrell, A Powell (C Wyles, 26), K Ratuvou; G Jackson, N De Kock; M Aguero, F Ongaro (M Cairns, 67), C Johnston (C Visagie, 73), S Borthwick (capt), H Vyvyan (K Chesney, 73), B Skirving, A Saull (D Barrell, 76), M Owen.

Referee: T Wiggleworth (Yorkshire).

* London Irish overwhelmed Sale by 28-6 in their Premiership match at the Madejski Stadium last night. The home side scored four tries while Sale drew a blank. The visitors' only points came from two Charlie Hodgson penalties. Irish's Australian full-back Peter Hewat was on target with his kicking and also scored his side's second try.