Saracens returns with a bang
PREMIERSHIP MATCH REPORT: Saracens marked their return to the top flight of the English game with a convincing 26-9 win away to Bristol on Friday, the opening day of the 2021/22 season.
The former English and European champions were relegated to the second-tier Championship in 2020 following breaches of salary-cap rules.
But they won promotion at the first attempt and on Friday the north London club signalled their intention to become a force again in the top flight.
Saracens flyhalf Alex Lozowski, who spent last season on loan at French club Montpellier, kicked seven penalties – four of them from around the halfway line – before wing Alex Lewington crossed for a late try.
Saracens’ victory was all the more impressive as they were without their five-strong British and Irish Lions contingent – including England stars Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje – as they complete their mandatory 10-week stand down following the combined side’s losing tour of South Africa.
“Obviously, we are delighted to be back, but we were also a bit unsure of where we are at,” said Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall.
“We haven’t played at this level for 12 months.
“I feel very proud. There was a collective energy, and it is magic to be part of as a coach.
“McCall added: “They get a gold star for unity and effort. We will get stronger as the year gets on, but it is only one game.
“We showed a lot of solidarity, and Alex was outstanding – he was incredible. He did that four years ago when he came to the club and Owen (Farrell) was unavailable.”
Bristol led 9-3 approaching half-time through three penalties from Callum Sheedy, but with a 19,000 crowd hoping to celebrate a five-year contract extension for Rugby Director Pat Lam in style, last season’s Premiership semifinalists did not score a point after half-time.
“We missed chances, but you have to credit Saracens,” said Lam. “They are back, and they hassled us right the way through.
“Everyone knows that’s why they are [title] favourites. They are back. They went down as the same group, and have come back again.”
Pens: Sheedy 3
Pens: Lozowski 7
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Ioan Lloyd, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore.
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Jake Armstrong, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Niyi Adeolokun.
Saracens: 15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Dom Morris, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Rotimi Segun, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Jackson Wray (captain), 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Tom Woolstencroft, 1 Ralph Adams-Hale.
Replacements: 16 Kapeli Pifeleti, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Ben Harris.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Paul Dix and Jamie Leahy
TMO: Tom Foley
* Picture credit: @premrugby