Gloucester point Wray ahead

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The Independent Online
Nigel Wray, the entrepreneur who liked Saracens so much he bought the club, looked like a man who had put a million on black when the colour that came up was red, or more precisely cherry and white. Kingsholm was at its vibrant best and Wray, paying his first visit to the west country stronghold, was suitably impressed. Welcome to a real rugby club.

"Gloucester are a First Division outfit," Wray said. "There was a great atmosphere and their support is their foundation. They are going to be a great club. Saracens can't replicate Gloucester's fervour and passion but I guarantee that next season we will draw the largest crowd in London."

That is when Saracens will have Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella. There are get-out clauses for players who belong to a club that is relegated but Saracens have not yet resigned themselves to the drop. More than 12,000 people were shoehorned into Kingsholm to watch, ostensibly, a game of Russian roulette at the last-chance saloon. The gun, however, may have contained blanks.

The clubs want to expand the First Division from 10 teams to 12, matching the system in Wales, and it is possible that while Northampton and London Irish move up from the Second Division, Saracens and West Hartlepool will not move down. Mark Evans, the Saracens coach, said: "Who knows the machinations of the various bodies he said with a grin on his face."

Gloucester, the antithesis of Saracens, responded to the dogfight in typical fashion, relying on Dave Sims's pack to grind out victory. The last thing Richard Hill, the coach, told the forwards was: "Get the referee on our side. Be nice to him." After 30 seconds Phil Greening kneed his opposite number. "He's an impetuous lad," Hill said, "but he's a massive talent."

Gloucester feed on home grown produce (it is doubtful whether they would know what to do with a Lynagh or a Sella) and Greening has already turned down an pounds 80,000 offer from Newcastle. "I know everybody has their price but I believe that Gloucester players have a much higher price than anybody else," Hill said. "What player wouldn't want to perform in front of that crowd?"

When Hill, the former Bath and England scrum-half, took over last October, Gloucester were in a terrible state. The smartest move the club made was in offering Hill, who is also the England A coach, a long-term contract before Saturday's game.

"I have just scratched the surface here," Hill said. "When you're second from bottom and fighting for every ball and every point you haven't got time to develop things. They'll be much better players next season. Gloucester is a region that produces some of the best forwards in the country. The only problem is that everybody wants to play in the pack. I've got to find a few threequarters."

Wray has bigger problems. "In corporate terms I've been in the fourth division," he said. "I'm not disheartened...yeah I'm disheartened but very determined."

Gloucester: Try Windo; Penalties Mapletoft 3; Drop goal: Kimber. Saracens: Try Hill; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalty Mapletoft.

Gloucester: M Mapletoft; P Holford, D Caskie, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Kimber, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, C Raymond, A Stanley.

Saracens: M Singer; K Chesney, S Ravenscroft, D Dooley, P Harries; G Hughes, B Davies (capt); G Holmes, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Burrow, T Copsey, E Halvey, A Diprose, R Hill.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).