Bristol 20-41 Saracens: Sarries boost play-off hopes with bonus-point victory

Sarries boosted their play-off hopes on Saturday (Getty Images)
Sarries boosted their play-off hopes on Saturday (Getty Images)

Saracens took a huge step towards securing an end-of-season play-off with a 41-20 bonus-point victory over Bristol in a compelling contest at Ashton Gate.

The visitors overcame an early 10-0 deficit and yellow cards for Maro Itoje and Ben Earl to run out convincing winners and put Bristol's chances of progressing beyond the regular season in serious jeopardy.

Itoje scored two of their tries while Romiti Segun and Juan-Martin Gonzalez were also on the try-scoring sheet, with man-of-the-match Elliot Daly converting two and kicking four penalties. Owen Farrell added a penalty and a conversion.

Joe Batley and Harry Thacker scored Bristol's tries with A.J. MacGinty kicking two penalties and a conversion. James Williams also added a conversion.

Bristol began strongly to take a fifth-minute lead. Saracens conceded two penalties in quick succession to give the hosts an attacking platform from where Harry Randall made a dart for the line with Batley on hand to pick up and score.

MacGinty converted and added a penalty after Earl was penalised for a deliberate knock-on but Saracens soon responded with a penalty from Farrell as Bristol's Siva Naulago was yellow-carded for another deliberate knock-on.

It was debatable whether a penalty try should have been awarded but referee Karl Dickson and his supporting officials thought otherwise.

Despite Naulago's absence, Bears were next on the scoreboard with a second straightforward penalty from MacGinty.

Naulago was still in the sin bin when Saracens reduced the arrears. Bristol prop Ellis Genge dropped the ball in his 22 and was made to pay for his error when Itoje and Gonzalez combined neatly to create a try for the former.

Farrell converted before Daly added a penalty to bring the scores level after 27 minutes.

Four minutes later, Saracens took the lead for the first time. A superb touch-finder from Farrell gained his side a position in the opposition 22, with Itoje taking advantage by forcing his way over from close range for his second try.

Daly converted and then kicked a penalty to earn the visitors a 23-13 interval lead.

Bears badly needed the first score of the second half and they began it in impressive style to pin the Londoners in their own 22 for a sustained period of pressure.

The home side turned down three kickable penalties in favour of more attacking options but somehow Saracens kept their line intact and broke up to get the next score through a third penalty from Daly.

Bristol's woes continued when MacGinty left the field to fail an HIA but they received a huge boost when both Itoje and Earl were sin-binned in quick succession. Itoje went for a high shot on Steven Luatua and Earl for a deliberate offside.

Bears brought on Thacker and the hooker's first task was to finish off a driving line-out, but their opponents remarkably replied with a penalty from Daly despite playing with only 13.

Itoje did not return with Theo McFarland coming on to bring his side up to 14 and in time to see Segun finish off some excellent ball-retention.

Earl returned to see Saracens seal victory with the best try of the afternoon when Daly and Lucio Cinti tore Bristol's defence to shreds before Gonzalez was provided with the scoring pass.

Additional reporting from PA