Promotion play-off

Burnham-on-Sea 24, Bristol Saracens 25

"A BITTER pill to swallow" was how Stags captain Ross McKechan summed up the play-off final against Bristol Saracens at The BASC Ground on Saturday afternoon, writes Lee Berry.

The Stags had Storm Hannah behind them in the first half, and the conditions played a big part for both teams throughout the game.

After an even start, Burnham struck first when the ball was passed down the line out to Ryan Beard on the wing and he scored the first try of the game, which went unconverted.

Saracens replied shortly after with a penalty but the Stags were soon back in the Sarries half.

Some quick thinking by Tim Piper with a tap and go opened up the Sarries defence and Piper passed to Ash Cutter, who scored Burnham's second try which Piper converted for a 12-3 lead.

Saracens were dogged in the loose and made the breakdown difficult at times which slowed the ball down for The Stags and various infringements were made by both teams.

With ball in hand, the hosts looked dangerous in open play.

A penalty was awarded to Burnham for a stamp to the body of Jim Havercroft, which resulted in a yellow card for the offender and Piper kicked to touch.

The lineout was won and Sam Lewis spotted Will Hopkins running at pace who caught the ball and broke through the line to score and extend the lead shortly before half time.

With Storm Hannah now in Saracens' favour for the second half, the Stags found themselves receiving the ball many times from kicks deep within the Sarries half.

This gave them plenty possession of ball and, as they worked their way up the pitch with various phases, Sam Lewis gathered the ball from the base of the scrum, went blind and squeezed through two defenders to score.

Piper's conversion took the lead to 24-3 but the visitors hit back with their first try of the afternoon, which was unconverted.

With Hannah in the Stags' faces, the pace of play for the home team slowed and Sarries sensed this as they began to bang on door once again.

Persistence paid off for the visitors as they managed to find a way through the Stags' defence and scored a second converted try to reduce Burnham's lead to 24-15.

The momentum of the game changed at this point and Sarries clawed another three points back with a penalty with around 15 minutes to go.

The Stags soon realised what was needed and, by keeping possession and gaining territory, they found themselves camped in Sarries 22.

A penalty was given for offside close to the five-metre line and a scrum was chosen.

Sarries were penalised again in the scrum and Burnham opted to scrum again.

It was at this point things changed.

The Stags were moving forward in the scrum but were penalised themselves and lost possession of ball when it mattered.

Sarries cleared out the 22 area with the help of Hannah and found themselves back in Burnham's half.

The Stags had ball in hand but during open play a pass was intercepted by a Sarries player who then kicked the ball from hand and managed to outpace the last man and pounce on the loose ball over the line close to the posts.

The try was converted and Sarries had taken the lead 24-25.

With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, the Stags were unable to make anything of it and the final whistle was blown.

The loss meant that the Stags will remain in the Somerset Premier next season but it is important to remember that the last eight months have been ones to savour.

Skipper McKechan said: "It was a tough result to take.

"After controlling most of the game and leading up until the 77th minute, losing like that was disappointing.

"Credit to Saracens for putting the pressure on us in that second half and eventually coming away with the win.

"I felt we had more than enough in our locker to do the job but it wasn’t meant to be.

"We are all disappointed by the result but also very positive about our season, after relegation last year.

"We have made huge strides and are playing some really good rugby.

"Over the off season, we will look to add to our squad, where we can, and really go for it next year.

"It has been a quality season and one we can all be proud of."