The boys are back in town – Saracens shutting out Bristol on their return to the Premiership with a classic suffocation, like they had never been away.
Bristol might have started the day celebrating coach Pat Lam’s new contract until 2028, boosting his near £600,000 salary, but ended it asphyxiated at Sarries’ strangling hands.
Alex Lozowski was the comeback king, kicking seven penalties and providing a chipped assist for Alex Lewington’s try, on his first match back since returning from his loan in Montpellier.
Alex Lozowski (centre) was triumphant on his first match back since returning from loan
Sarries post salary-cap saga may have a different squad, and accounting book, but this is the same team; winners who could not care a jot if you like them or not.
The scariest prospect for the league now is they have just beaten last year’s table-toppers without any of their Lions – Premiership rugby you have been warned.
‘That was a lot better than losing to Cornish Pirates to start the Championship,’ laughed Sarries coach Mark McCall after.
‘We’re delighted to be back and were a bit unsure where we are at as we hadn’t played at this level for 20 months. I feel really proud. Alex was outstanding.’
Lozowski kicked seven penalties and provided a chipped assist for Alex Lewington’s try
Bristol boss Pat Lam said: ‘Everyone knows that’s why they are favourites – it will be tough right through the year. But we made too many mistakes.’
If the end of the last season ended in gloriously multicolour, the new one started a little greyer. That was on the field, where the introduction of the ’50:22’ kicking trial seemed not to inspire attacking rugby, but long series of kick-tennis battles.
In the stands it was a riot though; this the most-attended rugby match on these isles since March 7, 2020 when England beat Wales at Twickenham pre-pandemic.
Home advantage, remember that? Bristol tried to add it with more than 19,000 in roaring their name around Ashton Gate. One of them had left his car engine running outside the ground, though, so eager he was to make the game, and had to nip out having been told off by the public address announcer.
Bristol boss Pat Lam claimed his side made ‘too many mistakes’ against the season’s favourites
The trouble was the first half was a little stuttering. Three penalties apiece for Callum Sheedy and Lozowski was it for 40 minutes of scoring, the best moment a nearly-try that would have been sensational.
It came when Charles Piutau stepped inside juicily for the break, then fed Harry Thacker – but Ioan Lloyd was just about hit into touch by Elliot Obatoyinbo and Billy Vunipola.
The England No 8 looked a little leggy in the first half, and it took Saracens time to grow into their Premiership return.
Charles Piutau stepped inside to feed Harry Thacke (right) for a nearly-try in the first 40
They started with fumbled lineouts and dropped balls but ended the half level, and not worried a jot about whether the game was entertaining – results are all they have ever craved, especially now they are back in the big time after their year in Championship isolation.
Here they went about their usual tricks with a much depleted squad.
No Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola or Elliot Daly, all resting after the Lions tour, but they did have Lozowski, Nick Isiekwe, Nick Tompkins and Ben Earl, from Bristol, back after loans.
Nick Tompkins (centre left) returned to action for Saracens after a loan to Newport Dragons
Lozowski kicked three penalties to push Sarries comfortably ahead after the resumption before they built their defensive wall.
Amid the Saracens shut-out the home crowd needed to wake up to lift their Bears; they were incensed when referee Wayne Barnes adjudged Alec Clarey and Tom Woolstencroft’s aggressive double-tackle on Will Capon fair.
And then, with 15 minutes left, Lozowski hit his seventh penalty and the place punctured.
It was Lozowski who added another killer blow, kicking across to Lewington who dived in for the try to add a fine layer of gloss.
But up in the stands the Sarries coaching staff were almost more excited by the way they held firm in defence, not allowing Bristol single try in a game for the first time in two years.
Nothing changes; Saracens’ greatest comfort.