|Saracens (0) 20|
|Tries: Dan, Segun, Hougaard Con: Goode Pen: Goode|
|Bristol (8) 19|
|Tries: Thacker, Ibitoye Pens: MacGinty, Williams 2|
Francois Hougaard scored a last-minute try as Saracens came from behind to beat Bristol 20-19.
An AJ MacGinty penalty and Harry Thacker try put Bristol ahead in a cagey first half.
James Williams and Alex Goode traded penalties before a Theo Dan try reduced the gap to four points.
Gabriel Ibitoye’s try 10 minutes from time put Bristol nine points clear, but Rotimi Segun retaliated and Hougaard crossed at the death to snatch the win.
Saracens extended their unbeaten run at the StoneX Stadium to 14 matches and stretched their lead at the top of the table to eight points, while Bristol remain bottom but took away a losing bonus point to close the gap to two points on Bath above them.
But Sarries were far from their best and missing a host of international players – including seven England internationals – they took 51 minutes to put any points on the board.
MacGinty’s early penalty gave the Bears the lead but the visitors’ struggles in attack this season – they have the worst points difference of any team in the league – were all too apparent. They dominated possession and territory for most of the first half but were held to three points for most of it.
Semi Radradra burst down the blindside and finally crossed the try-line only to have it chalked off for a knock-on and Rich Lane was denied by a Duncan Taylor tackle a few metres out.
Ibitoye came up short as he tried to dive over after a close-range line-out before hooker Thacker finally scored seconds later, powering over in a maul at the end of the first half.
MacGinty missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty, but centre James Williams – making his first Premiership start for Bristol – stepped up to convert a long-range penalty and stretch their lead to 11 points.
Goode finally put Saracens on the board with his own seconds later, but Williams landed another as the penalty count racked up against the hosts.
Dan scored from a maul to spark Sarries but Ibitoye seemed to wrap up victory for Bristol with his own try in the corner as their forwards pulled in Saracens’ defence.
The leaders proved why they have been so dominant this season though as Segun powered over to set up a tense finale.
With Bristol’s defence rattled and the hosts upping the pressure, Hougaard broke Bristol hearts with the last play of the game as Sarries moved the ball wide from a line-out to score in the corner.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall told BBC Radio London:
“This one is a bit different because we had significant change all the way through the team, a lot of international players not available or we were choosing not to be available to give some younger lads a chance.
“I’m really chuffed with how we hung in there because we found the first half difficult; we lost a lot of line-outs, we couldn’t really contain their driving maul, but hung in there and it was a close enough game at half-time.
“I thought our fight in the second half, especially the last 20 minutes, was incredible so it was a performance to be really proud of I think.”
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“We’re pretty annoyed. After a magnificent effort throughout that game and feeling like we were in control – 8-0 it could have been more, we had a couple of tries that we probably missed out.
“The boys worked really hard but when you’ve got a nine-point lead with five minutes to go, we should have protected that.
“Even then, with under three minutes to go they had to score a try. When they gave us the ball back it was naive to give the ball back to them. We’d worked all week about keeping that ball and there were some poor reads in that end there.
“I can’t fault the effort but we’ve missed a great opportunity and all-in-all I’m pretty annoyed with it.”
Saracens: Goode, Segun, Lozowski, Taylor, Lewington, M. Vunipola, Davies; Hislop, Dan, Judge, Kitchener, Tizard, Christie, Wray (c), B. Vunipola.
Replacements: Pifeleti, Mawi, Clarey, Boo, Ellis, Van Zyl, Tompkins, Hougaard.
Bristol Bears: Lane, Naulago, Radradra, Williams, Ibitoye, MacGinty, Randall; Thomas, Thacker, Lahiff, Batley, Vui, Luatua (c), Heenan, Bradbury.
Replacements: Byrne, Woolmore, Benz-Salomon, Holmes, Harding, Uren, Sheedy, Bates.
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.