|Saracens: (20) 27|
|Tries: Malins 2, Daly Cons: Farrell 3 Pens: Farrell 2|
|Bristol: (20) 23|
|Tries: Frisch, O’Conor, Eden With: Eden Pens: Eden, Sheedy|
Saracens held off a spirited Bristol to win a sixth straight league match and keep up the chase on leaders Leicester.
A frantic first half saw Antoine Frisch, Piers O’Conor and Tiff Eden score for the Bears, while Max Malins and Elliot Daly crossed for Saracens.
A second Malins try pushed Saracens ahead, but a Callum Sheedy penalty kept Bristol within four points.
Bristol almost snatched the win at the death but a late try was ruled out for a forward pass.
With the match held at the vast Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and billed as ‘The Showdown’, the first-half saw no fewer than 40 points scored as Saracens and Bristol traded points back and forth.
The two sides came into the match in very different positions this campaign, with Saracens flying high in second – and playing 13 internationals in their starting 15 – compared to inconsistent Bristol down in 10th.
Bristol silenced the London crowd by striking first only three minutes in through Frisch, as he stretched over with the ball from close range, but Malins drew Saracens level by running over in the corner.
An overthrown line-out from Jamie George allowed Bristol to pounce again, this time through O’Conor, yet two penalties from Owen Farrell – making his first start since November – swung the lead back Sarries’ way.
Tiff Eden scored his debut Premiership try as Saracens were caught on the back foot in a line-out for a second time. Still, a run from Daly down the left wing denied Bristol a half-time lead after Alex Lozowski found a gap in midfield.
A crucial Saracens turnover the ball in the red zone opened the door for Malins to get his second. When Nick Tompkins ran over 10 minutes later Saracens seemed to have the lead consolidated, until the the TMO ruled the Welshman’s try out, for a knock-on in the build up.
Sheedy’s penalty made it 27-23 to set up a tight final 15 and the visitors looked to have secured an impressive win with seconds on the clock after captain Joe Joyce broke through the Saracens defence.
He off-loaded to an unmarked Jack Bates, who touched down in the corner, only for it to be scratched off for a forward pass and leave Bristol confined to another narrow defeat and Saracens eight points off league leaders Leicester.
Saracens head coach Mark McCall:
“We’re obviously really thrilled to get four points and a win from today, but not thrilled with the performance.
“I thought it was an exciting game, but not the kind of exciting game we want it to be or part of, to be honest.
“We were poor defensively today and a lot of credit to Bristol for the problems they caused us, but I thought we did show a lot of resilience in the game to keep coming back and score two important tries either side of half-time.
“With the ball, we were pretty good but without the ball, we weren’t so good.”
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“I am 100% proud of this group. We prepared really well, we knew we were going up a massive challenge, we knew that we had our own challenges with unavailabilities and issues.
“But we put together a very good game plan to try and beat Saracens and we almost did it.
“We played well throughout the game but there were a couple of key moments for us. We talked about trying to keep our discipline down because that’s what cost us last time, turning little bits of ball over.
“But we were staying in the fight right the whole time right to the end and I thought at 71 minutes we had an outstanding opportunity five metres out, and their guy came right over the top. That should be a penalty, but he didn’t give it and we went on to concede four penalties in a row.
“Three minutes to go, two minutes to go, these boys never gave up and we almost scored the try, an unbelievable try, of the season.”
Saracens: Goode; Malins, Lozowski, Tompkins, Daly; Farrell (capt), Davies; Barrington, George, Koch, Itoje, Isiekwe, Wray, Earl, B Vunipola
Replacements: Woolstencroft, Mawi, Wainwright, Swinson, Christie, de Haas, Taylor, Maitland
Bristol: Lane; Leiua, O’Conor, Frisch, Bates; Eden, Randall; Woolmore, Thacker, Armstrong, Attwood, Joyce (capt), Vui, D Thomas, Harding.
Replacements: Kerr, Y Thomas, Afoa, Jeffries, Green, Sheedy, Radradra, Piutau
Referee: Christophe Ridley (RFU).