Oct 23, 2015
Saracens grind out win away to Gloucester
Saracens maintained their 100% start to their Aviva Premiership title defence with a hard-fought 17-15 win away to Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm.
A Mike Ellery try, plus four penalties (one from Charlie Hodgson and three from Owen Farrell) edged the Cherry & Whites in the West Country.
In the build-up to Friday’s fixture Saracens director of rugby labelled Gloucester as the Premiership’s most improved side and judging by the Cherry and Whites performance the two-time winning coach prematch words would prove somewhat prophetic.
McCall also predicted the Friday evening clash would be a stern test for his Saracens charges, who headed into the game on the back of a highly impressive five-try defeat of Sale Sharks, and it was cer-tainly that as the Premiership champions edged a tight contest with a 77th minute penalty from England returnee Owen Farrell.
After Gloucester skipper Billy Twelvetrees missed an early attempt at goal, it was Sarries who would score the game’s first points against the run of play.
After an impressive Premiership debut against Sale, Mike Ellery continued his promising form by cross-ing for a try after 14 minutes play. In the build-up it was Nick Tompkins (a late addition to the starting XV after Tim Streather’s late withdrawal) who did the damage, with the England U20s centre cything through the Gloucester midfield.
Sarries recycled and after quick hands from Richard Wigglesworth (an early replacement for Neil de Kock) and Alex Goode released Ellery who finished with aplomb – Hodgson couldn’t add the extras.
Hodgson though was on target minutes later with a penalty after Gloucester were penalized at the scrum. The veteran fly-half sent over a penalty to make the scores eight-nil to the visitors.
Gloucester responded well. With ‘The Shed’ in fine partisan voice, skipper Billy Twelvetrees sent over two penalty goals to reduce Sarries lead to two points.
Saracens absorbed the pressure expertly, and were able to extend their lead right on the stroke of half-time when a long-range Owen Farrell penalty sailed over the posts to give Saracens a five point lead at the break with the scores reading Gloucester 6 Saracens 11.
The second half continued much to the theme of the first forty minutes as Gloucester plugged away at the Sarries defence. The home side added another penalty goal through skipper Twelvetrees to pin back Sarries lead as the contest began to tighten up.
Sarries had some half chances. Mike Ellery had a half break down the left hand touchline and minutes later the visitors had great field position with a lineout that lamentably amounted to nothing.
Gloucester planned to stay in the contest, and on the hour mark they edged themselves in front for the first time in the game when Twelvetrees landed his fourth penalty of the evening.
Saracens refused to panic, and with Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth continuing to kick for territory they knew a chance to register points would once again present itself.
And it did, when Owen Farrell landed a monster penalty to regain the lead in front of the vociferous Shed.
Gloucester responded with a penalty of their own after a Sarries scrum collapsed, only for Saracens to win a penalty straight from the kick-off. Once again the ice cool Farrell stepped up to deliver the goods as Sarries once again edged in front to take a 15-17 lead with three minutes left to play.
Gloucester looked to attack from deep to snatch a late win, but there would be no repeat of January’s late drama as Saracens held out to win the game.
Director of Rugby, Mark McCall: “I think Gloucester are going to be very difficult to beat throughout the year, you can see the improvements that they’ve made. At times we struggled, especially in the first half, but I thought we gained more control in the second half and found a bit more field position.
“When it’s a two point game it can go either way but it was a great win at a very difficult place.”
Match winner, Owen Farrell: “We stuck to what we did, we didn’t waver from what we did as a team and thankfully it paid off for us.”
Final Score: Gloucester 15 Saracens 17
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Charlie Sharples 14 David Halaifonua 13 Billy Twelvetrees (C) 12 Billy Meakes 11 Jonny May 10 James Hook 9 Willi Heinz 1 Paddy McAllister 2 Richard Hibbard 3 John Afoa 4 Tom Savage 5 Sione Kalamafoni 6 Lewis Ludlow 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Ben Morgan
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay 17 Yann Thomas 18 Paul Doran-Jones 19 Elliott Stooke 20 Jacob Ro-wan 21 Callum Braley 22 Steve McColl 23 Rob Cook
Penalties: Twelvetrees x 5
Replacements used: Thomas for McAllister (57) – Doran-Jones for Afoa (65) – Stooke for Kalamafoni (66) – Rowan for Ludlow (55) – Cook for Halaifonua (57).
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode 14 Chris Ashton 13 Nick Tompkins 12 Owen Farrell 11 Mike Ellery 10 Charlie Hodgson 9 Neil de Kock 1 Mako Vunipola 2 Jamie George (C) 3 Petrus Du Plessis 4 George Kruis 5 Jim Hamilton 6 Michael Rhodes 7 Kelly Brown 8 Jackson Wray
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders 17 Rhys Gil 18 Titi Lamositele 19 Alistair Hargreaves 20 Will Fra-ser 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Nils Mordt 23 Ben Ransom.
Replacements used: Gill for M.Vunipola (58) – Lamositele for Du Plessis (75) – Hargreaves for Hamilton (51) – Fraser for Rhodes (25) – Wigglesworth for De Kock (8) – Mordt for Hodgson (69) – Ransom for Ellery (77).
Penalties: Farrell x 3, Hodgson