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Bristol 16-12 Saracens: Late penalty try from Callum Sheedy seals win for the Bears

They may be dubbed the league’s great entertainers but Bristol proved they are just as happy to win ugly. 

So much for the grand unveiling of Semi Radradra and his new cast of all-stars, this was a victory built on dogged determination and old-school grunt.

A quick weather update told much of the story. The torrential rain at Ashton Gate was a far cry from the sun-kissed beaches of Fiji, so this was never going to be an exhibition of side-stepping swagger. 

Instead, the start of the Bears’ new era was marked by a penalty try and a clobbering, hacked ball at a maul. This was a meeting of the rising and the fallen.

Saracens are down and out but, to their credit, their relegated team refused to collapse on to their sword. 

Alex Goode may not rank among the 2020 Premiership’s cast of A-listers, but the Japan-bound veteran almost steered his team to victory with 12 points from the boot.

In days gone by, the English champions would have deployed a loaded bench to squeeze out a victory in these conditions. 

However, the old depth of George Kruis, Will Skelton and Co has been replaced by a throng of young but talented rookies, who lack their match-winning knowhow.

In the new era, Bristol were the team blessed with a loaded armoury. They unleashed the likes of Kyle Sinckler, Ben Earl and Harry Thacker in the second half, bolstering their scrum and defence. 

They trailed until the 77th minute, before salvaging the victory when Jamie George desperately flew into the side of a driving maul, resulting in a yellow card and a penalty try.

‘These are tough games to play and, if we want to be the team we want, we have to win in different styles,’ said Bristol coach Pat Lam. 

‘It was a game that was going to go to the death with the way the teams were playing and the conditions. The boys took it nicely. We didn’t have enough time on the ball but our defence was massive. 

There was a lot of heart in that and good teams when they need to defend, they defend. Everyone knows us for our attack — but we want to get our defence right too.’

Bristol were pinned back early on by the box kicking of Richard Wigglesworth, with Radradra barely registering a touch in the first half. 

Alex Lewington and Rotimi Segun chased impressively, with Maro Itoje wreaking havoc at the lineout.

Billy Vunipola tried to batter his way over the try line but he was met by gutsy defence from the likes of Siale Piutau and Chris Vui.

‘Our attitude, our physicality and our energy were good,’ said Saracens coach Mark McCall. 

‘But our scrum wasn’t at the level I expect and we had countless chances five metres from their line.’

Goode kept the scoreboard in Saracens favour and the visitors became increasingly stretched in the second half. 

Luke Morahan had a dazzling try harshly disallowed for a block by Thacker, before they capitalised with a penalty try.

Saracens launched a series of driving lineouts in the closing stages but, following a fumble and a fly-hack, Bristol held on to climb up to second in the table.

Worcester, meanwhile, lost 44-15 to Gloucester, with the turning point being a red card for Melani Nanai after an illegal head-high challenge on Jonny May, who was unable to continue following lengthy treatment.

Worcester director of rugby Alan Solomons said: ‘There is no doubt it had a massive impact on the game. It’s very difficult to play for more than an hour with 14 men especially after you’ve had five months off.’

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