Match Reaction: Saracens 44 Bristol Bears 23
The sheer class of Saracens shone through with a five-try second half blitz to beat Bristol Bears 44-23 in the Gallagher Premiership.
Allianz Park rose to welcome the reigning champions but they were in peril at half-time, trailing 13-18 to the plucky Bears.
HT Saracens 13-18 Bristol Bears
Alapti Leiua gets the Bears on the board. Is there a shock brewing at Allianz Park? 👀 pic.twitter.com/z2weaY5tIu
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 8, 2018
The impact of returning duo Liam Williams, who ran in a quickfire hat-trick, and England star Billy Vunipola helped them pull through for five points.
Man of the match – Matt Gallagher
There were so many candidates wearing black – Williams for his clinical edge, Owen Farrell for yet another playmaking masterclass, Sione Vailanu for his ceaseless industry.
But Gallagher, who earned his bow with a commanding display in the Premiership Rugby Shield opener against Exeter Braves, didn’t disappoint on just his eighth start.
David Strettle’s absence opened the door for the 21-year-old, who took a try superbly well on five minutes and worked his socks off to secure the result.
Try of the match
Saracens scored six but the Bears had the best, Nick Haining’s innovative second-half effort going against the tide of the frantic second perio.
Haining spotted a gap down the left and latched onto his own fly-kick to crash over and cut the champions’ lead to 14 points at 37-23.
After going down to 14 men, Bristol found it hard to mount many attacks so the substance as well as the style of the replacement’s score was hugely impressive.
Moment of the match
Billy Vunipola from the back of the scrum – how many times have we heard that be the ruin of Gallagher Premiership sides.
The biggest roar of the afternoon at a packed Allianz Park came when the number eight picked up from the back of a scrum and roared his way over from close-range.
Saracens’ stocks are overflowing in the back-row, with Schalk Burger yet to appear this season, but it’s the return of Vunipola that will most delight fans.
What they said:
Saracens hat-trick hero Liam Williams: “I certainly haven’t scored three tries in 20 minutes before! I feel in good shape coming back from injury and was able to come on and make an impact.
“We were pretty terrible from the start, we weren’t good enough at the breakdown.
“I was on the pitch warming up at half-time but heard most of what Mark McCall had to say to the boys. It was pretty simple, we needed to get going and we sorted out the problems in the second half.
“With Alex (Lewington) and Matt (Gallagher) both scoring tries, there’s good competition and strength out wide.”
Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam: “We came up short, but not for the want of trying.
“It’s very difficult when you play at Saracens, so it’s an easy cop-out not to put your body on the line. They broke us a couple of times early on but the commitment to come back was superb.
“The main thing for us to work on discipline. We lost the penalty count again and that’s something we’ll have to fix in the coming weeks.
“Our general feel for the game is that we were disappointed not to come away with anything and we take huge, huge pride from the performance.”
Best of social
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) September 8, 2018
🎥 | Thank you to @Saracens for a fantastic game and to all the supporters who created a great atmosphere. 👏
Plenty of positives to take for the season ahead. 💪 pic.twitter.com/3sEARK4pmY
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) September 8, 2018