Bristol moved second in the Gallagher Premiership after claiming a dramatic 16-12 victory over Saracens at Ashton Gate. A 77th-minute penalty try, awarded when Saracens captain and England hooker Jamie George illegally entered a ruck on Saracens’ line, meant Bristol triumphed.
George was also yellow-carded, and Bristol held on to clinch the win following a largely forgettable contest that saw more than 30 penalties awarded. Bristol’s major summer signings Semi Radradra and Kyle Sinckler had quiet debuts, and it looked as if Alex Goode, deputising at fly-half for Owen Farrell, had kicked Saracens home with four penalties.
Bristol also had to survive a late Saracens onslaught following their replacement prop Max Lahiff’s sin-binning. But they prevailed courtesy of three Callum Sheedy penalties and the seven-point penalty try, denying Saracens a 10th Premiership win before their relegation to the Championship next term.
The behind-closed-doors contest rarely lifted above the mediocre, but Bristol did just enough. Both teams showed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement before kick-off after clubs were given free rein to decide how they should mark the fight against racism.
Twelve of Saracens’ line-up chose to take a knee, with Billy Vunipola, Vincent Koch and Michael Rhodes remaining standing in respectful silence, while Bristol’s players formed themselves into a heart shape.
Try or no try…what do we think? ?
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) August 15, 2020
Saracens were rapidly out of the blocks, exerting pressure through the pinpoint kicking of scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and taking a deserved lead through Goode’s eighth-minute penalty. Goode found his range again just two minutes later, this time from just inside Bristol’s half, to leave the home side 6-0 adrift.
Radradra barely had a touch during the opening quarter, such was Saracens’ technical excellence, but Bristol opened their account when Sheedy landed an angled 21st-minute penalty. And the home side drew level when Sheedy kicked a second penalty after Bristol launched a concerted attack through full-back Charles Piutau’s blistering pace.
The penalties continued to flow, though Goode missed a 25-metre chance and Saracens messed up an attacking lineout after kicking to the corner and hoping to shunt Bristol over their own line.
Errors also played their part as the rain swept across Ashton Gate, with a forgettable opening 40 minutes ending 6-6. Bristol boss Pat Lam made a half-time switch, sending on Ben Earl for his debut against the team he signed on loan from earlier this summer.
Earl replaced his fellow England international Nathan Hughes in the back row, and he was immediately involved as Bristol looked to increase the tempo following a stodgy first-half display. England prop Sinckler arrived in the 46th minute for a first Bristol run since he signed from Harlequins, and he immediately gained his team a scrum penalty, with Sheedy kicking the three points.
Bristol thought they had claimed the game’s opening try with 56 minutes gone after wing Luke Morahan applied a brilliant solo finish from 30 metres out. But referee Matt Carley and the television match official Claire Hodnett consulted at length before the score was ruled out for obstruction by Bristol hooker Harry Thacker on Maro Itoje that opened up a clear run for Morahan.
Saracens responded to that scare by establishing a foothold inside Bristol’s 22, and that pressure was rewarded with a fourth Goode penalty as the visitors edged back in front 16 minutes from time. But the drama was reserved for the dying minutes, with Bristol ultimately breathing a huge collective sigh of relief.
As happened in New Zealand when rugby returned in June, the referees have been busy this weekend in England… https://t.co/p2yebFBYaj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 15, 2020
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