A spirited second half performance helped Saracens Women book a place in the Premiership final and take a step closer to regaining their title.
The reigning champions were pushed all the way by a tenacious Lichfield side at Allianz Park but second half tries from Lauren Cattell and Poppy Cleall were enough to seal the 19-12 victory.
As expected, the visitors strong set piece caused the home side problems in the earlier encounters, providing them with a solid platform to unleash their backline and gain good territory. Superb defensive efforts from flanker Lauren Newman and Hannah Gallagher kept Lichfield at bay. Saracens indiscipline handed Lichfield an opportunity to get the first points on the board but Sarah Nicholas’ effort was denied by the woodwork. The home side responded with a score on their own against the run of play. An improved scrum allowed skipper Sonia Green to pick from the base and release Deborah Fleming down the wing. The ball quickly recycled by the pack for centre Brooke Sim to take on the Lichfield line and put Hannah Gallagher through the gap to score under the posts. Cattell added the extras.
Saracens lead was short lived as Lichfield struck back through prop Roz Crowley burrowing over from close range. Nicholas converting to bring the scores level. The Lichfield set piece continued to test the home side and were rewarded for their efforts as they turned over the ball allowing powerful number 8 Harriet Millar Mills to break through to score giving the visitors a 12-7 lead going into the break.
Saracens started to fire in the second 40 with more possession and territory that they had been starved of in the first half. Winger Lotte Clapp went close to levelling the score in the opening minutes but was brought down short of the line. Following a solid scrum the ball was worked out wide to Cattell who danced through the Lichfield defence to take the game level.
Feeling the momentum begin to build and tip in their favour, Saracens enjoyed a period of sustained possession. Cattel expertly turned the Lichfield defence to link with Fleming and as Saracens were signalled advantage for Lichfield straying offside, fly-half April Brown pounced on the opportunity of the free play by chipping through a perfectly weighted kick which bounced up into the hands of Poppy Cleall under the posts to give Saracens the lead. Cattell converted to take the score to 19-12. Player of the match Brown was outstanding as she orchestrated the reigning champions comeback, demonstrating beautiful sleight of hand and dancing feet.
Replacement prop El Perry made an instant impact both at set piece and in the loose as she burst through Lichfield’s line only to be cut down metres short of the line by the dogged Lichfield defence. Saracens applied the pressure at scrum time to win a penalty which was taken quickly and Cattell came close to getting on the score sheet again as she crossed the whitewash but the referee deemed it have been knocked on.
Lichfield continued to fight until the final whistle as they forced their way into the home side’s half but a crucial turnover from replacement winger Ama Mayes put an end to their attack, securing the victory and sending Saracens through to the Premiership final.
Head coach Rob Cain – “It was an awesome defensive display from the team. We creaked a few times but didn’t buckle and this allowed us to stay in the game and come away with the win even though we had very limited ball in the first 45 minutes. Our work rate and attitude in defence was impeccable even when things weren’t going how we wanted them to with the ball in attack and this allowed us to grind out a result when it mattered.
“Commiserations to Lichfield – they threw everything at us and tested us from the first to the last kick of the game. They dominated possession in the first half and pushed us all the way throughout.
“After half time we began to find our rhythm and testament to the girls determination and stubbornness to continue to make things happen we started to to create multiple opportunities and even though we missed a few we managed to finish off two superb tries in the second half to see us into the premiership final next week.”
Saracens Women take on Richmond in the Premiership final at The Stoop next Sunday 17th January, 17.30 kick off.
Final score: Saracens 19 Lichfield 12
Tries: Gallagher (25) Cattell (50) Cleall (55) Conversions: Cattell x 2
Saracens Women: 15 Nina Vistisen; 14 Deborah Fleming; 13 Lauren Cattell; 12 Brooke Sim; 11 Lotte Clapp; 10 April Brown; 9 Georgie Gulliver; 1.Karlee Walters; 2 May Campbell; 3 Geri Thomas 4 Marcella Collins; 5 Lauren Newman; 6 Poppy Cleall; 7 Hannah Gallagher; 8 Sonia Green (c)
Replacements: 16 Elena Perry; 17 Fiona Sim; 18 Becky Roby; 19; Cathy Freeman; 20; Georgia Peedle; 21 Laura Dowsett; 22 Ama Mayes
Tries: Crowley (28) Millar Mills (36) Conversions: Nicholas
Above photo shows Saracens winning the Premiership last season.