McCall 'proud' after seeing Saracens make spectacular Premiership return

Saracens’ Aled Davies in action during the Gallagher Premiership match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. Pict

Saracens’ Aled Davies in action during the Gallagher Premiership match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. - Credit: PA

Mark McCall admitted to a sense of pride after seeing his Saracens team make a spectacular return to the Gallagher Premiership.

Relegated to the Championship in 2020 following persistent salary-cap breaches for which they were fined more than £5million, Saracens endured a 348-day absence from English rugby's top flight.

And just over six months after they lost to Cornish Pirates in their Championship opener, Saracens demolished Bristol 26-9 at Ashton Gate.

Bristol Bears’ Nathan Hughes is tackled by Saracens’ Billy Vunipola during the Gallagher Premiership

Bristol Bears’ Nathan Hughes is tackled by Saracens’ Billy Vunipola during the Gallagher Premiership match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. - Credit: PA

A crowd of 19,000 looked on, with Saracens performing as though they had never been away from English rugby's elite arena.

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 - and wing Alex Lewington crossed for a late Saracens try.


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And they triumphed despite being without a five-strong British and Irish Lions contingent including the likes of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell as they complete their mandatory 10-week stand-down period following the South Africa tour.

"We haven't talked too much about coming back into the Premiership," Saracens rugby director McCall said.

Bristol Bears’ Piers O'Conor is tackled by Saracens’ Alex Lewington during the Gallagher Premiership

Bristol Bears’ Piers O'Conor is tackled by Saracens’ Alex Lewington during the Gallagher Premiership match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. - Credit: PA

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"Obviously, we are delighted to be back, but we were also a bit unsure of where we are at. 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.

"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 through three Callum Sheedy penalties approaching the interval, but they did not score a second-half point as Saracens ran away with it.

McCall added: "We regrouped after that first 20 minutes and I thought our second-half performance was superb.

"I am really pleased with how we handled the setbacks we had in the first 20 minutes and grew into the game and put them under more pressure.
"We talked about not worrying too much, as we knew we were playing against a very good side."

Bristol - Premiership semi-finalists in each of the last two seasons - hoped to celebrate rugby director Pat Lam's five-year contract extension that was announced on Friday in style, but Saracens had other ideas.

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