Saracens Women left it late to seal a win away against Firwood Waterloo in round 1 of the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
Sarries found themselves chasing the game with fifteen minutes on the clock but late scores from Nina Vistisen and Sonia Green, plus a penalty from the boot of Zoe Harrison, was enough to secure a 22-13 win at The Memorial Ground.
It was a thrilling start to the new Tyrrells Premier 15s campaign with very little to separate the teams showing just how competitive this league will be over the coming months.
Waterloo who are new to the top flight this season, showed they are most definitely not here to make up numbers as they outmuscled Sarries and dominated for large periods of the first half. Despite strong carries from No.8 Sarah Beckett and captain Ashleigh Neale, the home side could not breach a solid Sarries defence and struggled to play out of their own half. First game jitters were clearly evident as errors from both sides littered proceedings and stunted any real flow.
Waterloo deservedly broke the deadlock after thirteen minutes through a Bethany Stott penalty when Sarries found themselves isolated in their own 22 and were penalised for holding on.
Sarries head coach will have been happy with his sides set piece work which ticked nicely with debutant lock Rosanna Moynihan dominating in the air at lineout time and proving to be a real disruption on opposition ball.
The visitors had an opportunity to get on the scoreboard just before half time as Cattell put Clapp into space to beat the first defender and then the pair linking again but a last ditch tackle from centre Vanessa Temple forced a crucial knock on inches short of the line and Waterloo escaped unscathed to take a narrow three point lead into the break. A modest score for a frenetic first forty minutes.
The match picked up where it had left off with possession yo-yoing between the sides and the penalty count creeping up. Martinez Gion looked to have given Sarries the ideal start as the prop steamrolled towards the line following a series of strong carries but the Dutch international was swarmed by green shirts giving the home side a chance to release the pressure.
Sarries started to show glimpses of what they are capable of as they began to move the ball and introduce their free-flowing offloading game. The partnership of Cattell and Clapp began to fizz and the captain made yards with every carry as she powered through tacklers in an exemplary performance.
Sonia Green, having moved to No.8, made good yards off the base of the scrum and quick thinking from Georgie Gulliver recycled out to Zoe Harrison, the fly half brushing off two defenders to score on the 49 minute mark.
Saracens lead was short-lived as mounting indiscipline crippled their go forward and an accidental offside gifted Waterloo a penalty which Stott duly slotted to hand the lead back.
Young prop Hannah Botterman made an immediate impact off the bench and found herself in the thick of the action, latching on to win a penalty at the breakdown and making a number of barnstorming runs as the Waterloo defence struggled to contain her.
Waterloo were reduced to 14 players when winger Rebekah Wilson put in a high tackle on Clapp following a kick through and was shown yellow. Despite having the numerical advantage, it was the home side that struck next following an error in the Sarries midfield which Temple capitalised on to bust through and score under the sticks. Stott added the extras to extend Waterloo’s lead to 13-5.
With the clock ticking down and the prospect of an early Prem loss bearing down on them, Cain’s side found another gear and began to dominate possession and territory as Harrison stepped up to slot a penalty with ten minutes remaining to narrow the gap to just four points.
Sarries second score of the match was a real team effort as the pack and backline interlinked seamlessly with a series of offloads for Vistisen to cross in the corner and hand the lead back to the visitors.
Waterloo’s previously watertight defence began to struggle with the Saracens physicality and lock Chloe Gardner was sent to the bin to finish the game following a string of infringements. Green was rewarded for her monumental efforts around the park as she found herself at the back of a well organised catch and drive to burrow over. Harrison nailed an impressive long distance to put the game out of reach and secure an opening win for Saracens.
Speaking after the game, Rob Cain said: “Huge credit to Waterloo today – they didn’t look like the new team on the block. They controlled the game and didn’t deserve to lose. Our character and finally waking up with 15 minutes to play got the win and salvaged some positivity from today. I was hoping we would settle into the game. Our set piece work was good but in all other areas we were poor today and we were lucky not to be down three or four scores at half time.
“I was extremely disappointed today – disappointed for the players that they didn’t show all the hard work they have put in over preseason. To finally wake up after 65 minutes and come back to win shows you how much talent we have but our application will need to improve.”
15 Rowan White;14 Lotte Clapp © ; 13 Nina Vistisen; 12 Lauren Cattell:11 Eloise Bloomfield; 10 Zoe Harrison; 9 Georgie Gulliver ( Goddard 61’) ; 1 Loz Salisbury (Barber 65’) ;2 Kat Evans; 3 Sam Martinez Gion (Botterman 57’); 4 Anna Stodter; 5 Rosanna Moynihan; 6 Kay Searcy; 7 Sonia Green; 8 Rosie Galligan (35’)
Replacements 16 Sarah Barber;17 Hannah Botterman; 18 Charlotte Fredrickson; 19 Abigail Newey; 20 Lauren Newman; 21 Anna Goddard; 22 Georgie Lingham
Scores Tries Harrison (49’); Vistisen (69’); Green (77’)
Cons Harrison 2/3
Penalties Harrison 1/1