Sparg sparks Sarries

Zurich Premiership: Castaignÿde's stand-in finds French flair while No 10 features at Franklin's Gardens
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There is an inherent risk in handing the captaincy to a player of Agustin Pichot's temperament. The little Argentinian is as volatile as he is brilliant, and yesterday he lost his head and the plot as Saracens, who put 50 points on Gloucester last week, completed an early-season West Country double.

There is an inherent risk in handing the captaincy to a player of Agustin Pichot's temperament. The little Argentinian is as volatile as he is brilliant, and yesterday he lost his head and the plot as Saracens, who put 50 points on Gloucester last week, completed an early-season West Country double.

The frustration of it all at the Memorial Ground was too much for Pichot. A characteristic of his performances is to conduct a running dialogue with the referee, and the discussion reached boiling point midway through the first half when Pichot took a quick tap from a penalty award and scored what he obviously thought was a perfectly good try. However, Chris White, the referee, was not satisfied and the result instead was a penalty goal by Gareth Bowen.

The relationship between the Bristol captain and the whistleblower did not improve in the second half as Saracens proceeded to benefit from a string of penalties to overhaul an interval deficit of 16-10 and establish the base for a valuable away win.

After 67 minutes, Pichot, moving offside at a Saracens scrum, grounded Kris Chesney in front of the referee's nose and Mr White, seeing red, issued a yellow card. Pichot was pacing up and down the touchline, during his 10-minute sabbatical in the sin-bin like a demented puma, but then something odd happened.

Having served his time, he did not reappear. Instead Bristol sent Gareth Baber on at scrum-half. The official reason was to introduce "fresh legs", but perhaps discretion was the better part of valour.

When a player loses a debate to the referee, the law of diminishing returns inevitably applies. Bristol also suffered badly by their inability to find their jumpers in the line-out. In the first half alone they failed to secure possession at seven of their throw-ins and their success rate barely improved in the second half, despite the fact that Dean Ryan, the player-coach, took himself off and Barry Williams replaced Neil McCarthy as the thrower.

In this regard Bristol missed Garath Archer, the England lock, much more than Saracens missed Thomas Castaignÿde, who got married yesterday having already enjoyed ahoneymoon.

The danger of kicking possession away was demonstrated in spades as early as the fifth minute when Duncan McRae, with several options open to him, elected to punt to the right-hand corner. It was intended for Ben Johnston and there was very little wrong with the kick apart from the fact that it should not have been executed to somebody who had no support. Johnston went up for it, was tackled by Dean Dewdney and when the ball fell loose it was the Bristol left-wing who was the quickest to react.

Dewdney picked up and set off like Lucky Jim in the 2.05 at Walthamstow dogs, racing 90 yards without a hand being laid on him. Dan Luger was the closest anybody got and that was to prevent him from running behind the posts. In a match of near-faultless goal kicking, that did not stop Bowen from adding the point.

McRae and Bowen exchanged penalties before Chesney rounded off a marvellous Saracens attack, the genesis of which came from Bristol losing another line-out. Brett Sparg, replacing Castaignÿde, produced a reverse flip pass in the move of which the Frenchman would have been proud and Luger and Johnston also played their part. When the latter was tackled just short, Chesney was there to crash over.

McRae's conversion levelled the scores at 10-10 and Bowen landed two penalties to close the first half, the second being awarded for a late tackle on Pichot. In between, Bill Davison was fortunate to stay on after attacking Ryan with two blatant knees in the back.

If Bristol had got off to a dream start, so did Saracens after the break. Although Kyran Bracken was half tackled as he attempted a break, it benefited the London club as his late pass, which had the defence in two minds, allowed McRae to take it at an unorthodox angle and the Australian took full advantage by running in from 40 yards. His conversion put Saracens ahead 17-16 and as Bristol began to lose their confidence and composure, set about consolidating their advantage. McRae added four penalties and in a frantic finale the excellent Adam Vander got Bristol's second try, following a break by Steven Vile. As the game went into injury time, it looked as if Bristol at least had the consolation of a point for not losing by more than a margin of seven, but in the 83rd minute even that disappeared when Bracken and Kevin Sorrell sent in Darragh O'Mahony.

"We were very nervous in the dressing-room," McRae said. "The only explanation is that it was our first away game and there are huge expectations of us. When the international matches start, it is going to be a big test of our squad system. All we've done is take two steps along a very long road."

Bristol: L Best; D Rees, E Simone, L Davies, D Dewdne; G Bowen (S Vile, 70), A Pichot (capt; G Baber, 75); P Johnstone, N McCarthy (B Williams, ht), D Crompton, A Sheridan, D Ryan (A Brown, 63), S Fenn (B Sturnham, 63), J Brownrigg, A Vander.

Saracens: B Sparg; D Luger, B Johnston, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; D McRae, K Bracken (capt); P Wallace (D Flatman, 50), N Cairn, J White, S Murray, B Davison (D Grewcock, 50), K Chesney, T Diprose, R Hill.

Referee: C White (Cheltenham)

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