Saracens stun Bristol on Premiership return

London (AFP) –


Saracens marked their return to the English Premiership with a convincing 26-9 win away to Bristol on Friday, the opening night of the 2021/22 season.

The former English and European champions were relegated to the second-tier Championship in 2020 following breaches of salary-cap rules.

But they won promotion at the first attempt and on Friday the north London club signalled their intention to become a force again in the top flight.

Saracens fly-half Alex Lozowski, who spent last season on loan at French club Montpellier, kicked seven penalties -- four of them from around the halfway line - before wing Alex Lewington crossed for a late try.

Saracens' victory was all the more impressive as they were without their five-strong British and Irish Lions contingent -- including England stars Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje -- as they complete their mandatory 10-week stand down following the combined side's losing tour of South Africa.

"Obviously, we are delighted to be back, but we were also a bit unsure of where we are at," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall. "We haven't played at this level for 12 months.

"I feel very proud. There was a collective energy, and it is magic to be part of as a coach.

"McCall added: "They get a gold star for unity and effort. We will get stronger as the year gets on, but it is only one game.

"We showed a lot of solidarity, and Alex was outstanding -- he was incredible. He did that four years ago when he came to the club and Owen (Farrell) was unavailable."

Bristol led 9-3 approaching half-time through three penalties from Callum Sheedy but, on a night when a 19,000 crowd had hoped to celebrate a five-year contract extension for rugby director Pat Lam in style, last season's Premiership semi-finalists did not score a point after half-time.

"We missed chances, but you have to credit Saracens," said Lam. "They are back, and they hassled us right the way through.

"Everyone knows that's why they are (title) favourites. They are back. They went down as the same group, and have come back again."