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Match Report: Saracens 27 Bristol Rugby 9

29 Apr 2017
Match Report: Saracens 27 Bristol Rugby 9

Saracens overcame a slow first half to sign off their departing club legends in style with a bonus-point Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Bristol at Allianz Park.

On the day that they said farewell to both Neil de Kock and Kelly Brown, Sarries’ push for a home semi-final looked to have taken a massive dent in the first half.

Three penalties from Gavin Henson to one from Owen Farrell meant the basements boys were leading 9-3 at the break.

But after the interval Saracens finally clicked into gear as Chris Ashton, Petrus du Plessis (2) and Nick Tompkins all went over for the defending league and European champions.

Victory means Mark McCall’s side are two points behind the Exeter Chiefs in the race for second with a trip to Ricoh Arena up next in the final round of the regular season where they will face table toppers Wasps are also two points in front but lead the standings on games won.

Saracens had won their last five matches against Bristol in all competitions since the West Countrymen’s 18-3 victory at Memorial Stadium in Premiership Rugby in January 2008.

This was Bristol’s first visit to Allianz Park however, but on a day that Sarries said goodbye to two club legends in de Kock and Brown, it was the visitors who settled quicker as the defending champions endured one of the most frustrating halves of their season.

Playing into the wind, handling errors plagued their every move while the boot of Henson forced them to come from behind.

Sarries certainly came the closest to a try, first an Alex Lozowski interception nearly released Ashton before the winger then came even closer with a kick and chase score that was ruled out by the TMO for offside.

And from the latter infringement Henson kicked the visitors – already guaranteed to finish bottom of the pile – into a 3-0 lead.

And the Welshman continued to turn the screw against his former club with two more penalties before half time to open out a 9-0 lead against a shell-shocked Sarries.

Farrell pulled one penalty of his own back before the break but at the interval McCall’s men were in real danger of a first loss on this ground since March 2016.

But not for nothing are Sarries on a five-match winning streak in all competitions and from the off they were on the attack.

And the pressure finally told when Ashton produced a moment of magic on the right wing, collecting his own delicate kick through to score after Tompkins’ fine work in the build-up.

Farrell – on his 150th game for the club – banged over the conversion for good measure and Saracens were in front at 10-9.

And after that it was one way traffic – Sarries emptying their bench as the likes of Jamie George and Richard Wigglesworth were introduced.

That meant de Kock and Brown were given their chance to bid the Allianz Park faithful farewell one last time but in between there was also a marquee moment for du Plessis.

The tighthead prop – on as a replacement – emerged from the bottom of a rolling maul as Sarries’ second try scorer on the day, his first ever for the club on what could be his final home appearance.

Farrell missed with that conversion but now the hosts were humming and Lozowski’s fantastic break and offload put Tompkins over for their third try of the second half.

A fourth try and a bonus point arrived right at the death and it was that man du Plessis who went over again, Farrell’s conversion sealing a fine victory.