A clear gap has emerged at the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP after Saracens went down to a second defeat in seven days at Bristol.
Saracens were hoping to get back into the winning habit after suffering a last-gasp home defeat to Newcastle by 22-19 last Sunday.
And, with talk of a multi-million pounds investment from a South African company flying around Vicarage Road, keeping up with Premiership pace-setters Bath and Gloucester – third-placed Sarries were seven points adrift before the match – was crucial.
Bristol, meanwhile, needed to put the dire display at Kingsholm last Saturday, where they were comprehensively beaten 27-0 by Gloucester, firmly behind them which they seemed to be doing after the first half.
The Memorial Stadium side lead 10-3 by then after Saracens had taken the lead through a penalty from fly-half Glen Jackson before opposite number Jason Strange replied in kind. But after 22 minutes Bristol grabbed the first try of a match that was building into a decent contest.
An attacking line-out was taken at the tail by lock Roy Winters and a rumbling drive sent a ruck over the Saracens line with flanker Joe El Abd getting the congratulations from his team-mates for the touchdown that Strange converted.
Sarries should really have been back in it almost straight away, though, as they broke out over halfway only for flanker Ben Skirving to put in a forward pass to wing Kameli Ratuvou with the home cover stretched.
Bristol, too, had other try chances but could not execute the final deliveries.
The intensity waned a little after the break as Sarries tried in vain to find routes through the home defence.
However, once they held this out, the home team wound up the gears – and it paid dividends as a huge amount of pressure saw Sarries infringe at a ruck and Strange pop over a simple penalty to take his team 13-3 ahead.
Saracens did not help themselves either when centre Kevin Sorrell was sin-binned for an infringement at a ruck and soon, after some more intense pressure in the opposition 22, full-back Luke Arscott rounded off a move on the left for his side’s second try of the match.
Although Strange was off target with his conversion, that touchdown just about finished Sarries off despite director of rugby Alan Gaffney’s attempt to bring new momentum to his team with a string of replacements but to no avail.
The victory also revived Bristol’s GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP position to draw them away from the basement battle below them.