Bristol’s entertainers win ugly to cement their Premiership title credentials
Pat Lam’s Bristol staged a smash-and-grab raid to rob Saracens and take a big step towards succeeding them as champions.
A sixth straight Premiership win moved the Bears second behind Exeter and further justified owner Steve Lansdowne’s monster investment in the club.
But on a miserable day at Ashton Gate their star-studded team had to win ugly, taking the lead for the first time with just three minutes left.
“We love to entertain everyone,” said Lam, who had recruited Semi Radradra and Kyle Sinckler during lockdown with the promise of fireworks.
“But it was about playing the conditions and taking your chances. If we want to be the team we want to be we have to win in different styles. We showed a lot of heart.”
Saracens bossed large periods of the game, belying the turmoil at a club condemned to relegation for salary cap breaches and forced to offload half a dozen of its best players.
Injuries to England trio Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Brad Barritt further weakened them, yet with Alex Goode calling the shots they had victory in sight when handing Bristol a get-out-of-jail card.
Replacement scrum-half Aled Davies fluffed a box kick, Sarries were caught offside and from Callum Sheedy’s resultant kick to the corner, Siale Piutau took set-piece ball to the line.
Jamie George tried desperately to intercept the threat but the England hooker came in from the side and ref Matt Carley awarded a penalty try.
The Londoners deserved more for their effort as they build towards next month’s rescheduled Champions Cup quarter-final at Leinster.
Goode’s clever prods and pokes, combined with his team mate’s suffocating kick-chase, pinned the home side deep in their own territory for long periods.
Maro Itoje, wearing specially created boots dedicated to key workers who have performed such heroics in this pandemic, also put in a mighty shift.
And there was the heartening sight of England No8 Billy Vunipola back to something like full bore after a quiet World Cup and a fourth broken arm.
The upshot was Radradra being restricted to defensive duties and a watching brief – much as Manu Tuilagi had been when headlining for Sale at Harlequins on Friday night.
Unlike Sharks, however, Bristol found a way to turn a slow start into a win, helped by the second half arrival of Sinckler and on-loan Sarries star Ben Earl.
Having absorbed a world of pressure, they broke upfield and although Luke Morahan’s solo try, from a brilliant arcing run, was chalked off for a marginal obstruction, it gave them the belief for one final triumphant push.
“We knew it would be an arm wrestle and come down to the last minute,” said man of the match Piutau. “We are in a good place. Our culture is based on love and we are showing a lot of love for each other."
BRISTOL – Try: Penalty. Pens: Sheedy 3.
SARACENS – Pens: Goode 4.
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