Saracens’ defensive display ‘as good as any I can remember’ says Mark McCall

David Skippers
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall sang the praises of his team’s defensive efforts as they sealed an impressive 41-20 victory over Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate on Saturday.

The bonus-point triumph bolstered the defending champions’ play-off hopes as they consolidated second position in the standings but just four points separate them and fourth-placed Sale Sharks, who they will face at StoneX Stadium on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Bristol‘s defeat to Sarries has seen them drop down to seventh position on the Premiership table but they can still reach the play-offs if they beat sixth-placed Harlequins in their lat league fixture next Saturday.

Sarries struggled initially

Although Saracens clinched a convincing win in the end, they battled initially after Bristol raced into an early 10-0 lead and the champions also lost Ben Earl and Maro Itoje to yellow cards.

Itoje crossed for two Saracens’ tries while Romiti Segun and Juan-Martin Gonzalez also dotted down, while man-of-the-match Elliot Daly slotted two conversions and four penalties. Captain Owen Farrell added a penalty and a conversion.

“We didn’t start the game very well and I’m really proud of the way we fought back to wrestle the momentum away from them,” said McCall. “We handled the 13-man period exceptionally by making a lot of smart decisions during the period.

“They are a real handful in attack and that defensive performance was as good as any I can remember.

“Owen’s (Farrell) groin tightened up so Elliot (Daly) took over and away he went. It’s remarkable really as he never practises his goal-kicking.”

Meanwhile, Farrell said: “We had to play a different way to win at Bath but today we wanted to play heads-up rugby on a nice, dry pitch.

Maro Itoje double hands Saracens significant Premiership win over red hot Bristol Bears

“Against a running side like Bristol, there are loads of decisions to be made all over the pitch and I thought we took our opportunities really well.”

Joe Batley and Harry Thacker crossed the whitewash for the Bears with A.J.MacGinty kicking two penalties and a conversion while James Williams also added a conversion.

Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam bemoaned his team’s inability to take their chances, especially when Saracens had Earle and Itoje in the sin bin.

‘Execution wasn’t very good’

“We started well but then our execution wasn’t very good as we didn’t take a number of opportunities,” he said.

“We encouraged the players at half-time not to go into their shell and we needed to score when he had five to seven minutes of pressure early in the second half but we didn’t capitalise.

“They slowed the game down in the sin-binning period and there were a couple of tough calls from the referee which went against us,

“We wanted to be ahead as it’s always difficult against Saracens when you fall behind.

“We’ve still got one to play and it’s always a decent game against Quins, so we’ll just have to see what develops.”

READ MORE: ‘We had a job to do’ – Northampton Saints share sympathies after hammering Gloucester and securing semi-final