Bristol stalwart Joe Joyce busts through the defence in the dying minutes of Saracens vs Bristol. He sees Jack Bates charging on, and pops the ball to him. Bates gallops towards the try-line, and the crowd erupts at Tottenham Hotspur’s immaculate stadium. Max Malins admits to thinking at the time: “That’s the end of it “. Alas for the Bears, the pass floated forward. Try disallowed; the win went to Saracens.If that pass had floated just a few yards backwards, Bristol would have spoiled Saracens’ big day. Their great expedition at a grand stadium would have ended in a humbling defeat. Saracens exerted dominance at the scrum and a host of internationals on show. Despite this, Saracens were yards away from losing, in a match the bookies had them to win by 17 points. So what nearly cost Saracens on such a momentous day? Arguably their defence. This week they have fixtures against Wasps (Premiership Cup) and Sale (Gallagher Premiership). Their defence will need to improve.
Mark McCall critiques Saracens’ defence vs Bristol
Farrell had a decent outing on his first game back from injury. Mark McCall acknowledged as much, stating: “he ran the attack brilliantly and defended well”. But in the 2nd half, Farrell was penalised for another risky tackle. Predictably, it sparked a storm on social media. When head coach Mark McCall was asked if he was concerned with Farrell’s tackle technique, he answered with a frosty and blunt “No”.
No card for Owen Farrell! Are you having a laugh?
If this happened in the URC, people would go mental about standards of refs (some would threaten to join the Premiership 😜)
How Farrell has never seen red for these tackles is crazy pic.twitter.com/CLt3cheCfb
— Caolán (@CaolanSRugby00) March 26, 2022
On his team’s defensive performance, McCall did state “we were not good defensively today”. The defence was fairly narrow throughout the game, with the Bears finding joy through creative play out wide.
It may largely be down to the number of changes in the team. On top of Farrell returning from injury, six of the starting 15 have only just returned from international duty. This is a challenge McCall admitted: “We brought a lot of players back. To expect them to be a cohesive unit after a couple of training sessions was maybe a tall order”.
Bristol Bears finally returning to form?
To understand Saracens’ niggles in defence, credit must be given to the Bristol Bears attack. Last season, the Bears topped the table prior to the playoffs with a hugely exciting brand of rugby. Bristolians will hope the team rediscover that run.Pat Lam highlights the return of Harry Randall being vital to their attack, as he knows the Bears system so thoroughly. With all the half-back injuries Bristol have had, Lam explained how it caused unfamiliarity, but Randall knows the game-plan instinctively. “Harry Randall brings fluidity because there’s no second-guessing” Lam explained.
“So everyone gets more time on the ball. Everyone gets better carries”.
As for Joe Joyce and his unfortunate forward pass, Lam admits that the Bristol captain was left “distraught” by the mistake.
“But he did an unbelievable job to be in that position anyway. A second-row after 70 or 80 minutes; what he did to get there and create the opportunity…. he was phenomenal”.
The brilliance of the stadium
Both sides have plenty to analyse, but at times, you just have to appreciate the spectacle. Both sides turned up with the spirit of an entertainer, with one-handed offloads and tap-tackles in this six-try thriller.
The Tottenham Hotspur stadium was buzzing with a party atmosphere. There were brass bands, full flames roaring, and even a violinist playing from the roof. Hopefully, this flagship fixture returns next year.
In the words of Mark McCall, this “colourful occasion” was “good for the game, and good for the Premiership”.
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