Saracens' broadside leaves Bristol with sinking feeling

Saracens 37 Bristol 13
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The Independent Online

Bristol are looking ever more like relegation candidates. A raft of players have yet to renew their contracts and the coach, Richard Hill, says much will depend on whether they are still in the Premiership next season. After this comprehensive defeat that is unlikely.

They were outclassed, yet again this season, by a distance and the five-year tenure of Hill is also looking tenuous.

However, Hill, whose name is being linked to jobs in France as well as with the vacancy at Leicester, should not have to shoulder all the blame. Injuries, and the smallest playing budget in the Premiership, have limited his choice of personnel and after Scott Linklater left the field with a pulled calf, Hill's choice became even more limited. David Blaney is the club's only fit hooker because Mark Regan is also out with a calf injury.

There now follows a four-week window in the Premiership, but Bristol's first match after the break is against relegation rivals Newcastle, a match which Hill thinks will be too soon to bring back Regan and Linklater. "We have to win that match," he said. "The pressure is on us. And even with my optimistic hat on it is not looking good."

It is sad to see the one-time giants of West Country rugby floundering. Their kicking was dire and, although the forwards competed manfully at the set piece and rattled their opponents on occasion, any ball won up front was invariably woefully wasted by the backs. If Saracens had been more clinical and a fraction more accurate, then there could well have been an avalanche of points. As it was, they still did enough to haul themselves into sixth place and the bonus point eased them a little further away from seventh-placed Harlequins, who have a game in hand.

Steve Borthwick, who captained England throughout the autumn internationals and is expected to keep the role for a little longer, scored a vital try for Saracens just three days before Martin Johnson names England's Six Nations' squad. Linklater was sent to the sin bin, Saracens went for the line-out and Borthwick was driven over.

Saracens had controlled the game from the start with some superb kicking out of hand by both half-backs, Neil de Kock and Glen Jackson, who kicked six out of six goal-kicks.

Bristol were pulled this way and that until Saracens struck. First Jackson fed the prop Matias Aguero from close range, then a great break by the open side Andy Saull scattered the Bristol cover like confetti and the impressive inside centre Brad Barritt, making his first start, cruised over. Ben Skirving was driven over for No3 in the second half and then came Borthwick's effort. Bristol managed a try of their own through Linklater and Ed Barnes thumped over a couple of penalties, but there was only ever one side in this match and it wasn't Bristol.

Saracens: Tries Aguero, Barritt, Skirving, Borthwick; Conversions Jackson 3, Ross; Penalties Jackson 3. Bristol: Try Linklater; Conversion Barnes; Penalties Barnes 2.

Saracens: C Lyles; R Haughton (R Penney, 73), K Sorrell, B Barritt, N Cato; G Jackson (G Ross, 78), N de Kock (M Rauluni, 60); M Aguero (N Lloyd, 63), F Ongaro (A Kyriacou, 57), C Johnston (C Visagie, 71), S Borthwick (capt), C Jack (H Vyvyan, 70), W van Heerden, A Saull, B Skirving.

Bristol: V Lilo; M Turner, Neil Brew, E Barnes (L Eves, 80+2), Nathan Brew (L Robinson, 63); A Jarvis, S Perry (G Beveridge, 80+2); M Irish, S Linklater (D Blaney, 24), D Crompton (W Thompson, 71), N Budgett (R Winters, 65), R Sidoli, M Salter (capt; J Phillips, 71), A To'oala, D Ward-Smith.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).