Mapletoft drops in late

Gloucester 9 Saracens 6
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After nearly 75 minutes of fruitless chasing, Gloucester snatched this game with two 40-metre drop goals from their stand-off Mark Mapletoft. So ended a raw, muddled game in which neither side could break the other's defences. It was as well that those streaming out of the ground afterwards will only remember those final moments.

Only a year ago a league match between one side five places from the top of Division One, and another five places from the bottom wouldn't have excited much interest, let alone passion. Saracens are no longer in the running for the championship, or Gloucester in serious danger of relegation. What now makes the difference to a fixture like this is the loot and glamour of European competition.

To get their passports stamped, the Saracens had only to move up one rung and stay there. Unfortunately in coming to Kingsholm they landed not on a ladder but a snake. Gloucester, who looked like born losers until November, may have lost all but a mathematical chance of getting into the package tours. But they like nothing better than ruffling the fancy ideas of gents from the capital.

The game started on a dom- estic note. It was announced that less than an hour before the kick-off Dave Sims had gained a baby boy but temporarily lost the Gloucester captaincy to Phil Greening, for fear that he might not make it from the hospital. And then the game was held up by another childish incident when the mascot, having been photographed in the centre, walked off with the match ball.

These distractions spread to the game, which took a long time to produce action. Although Gloucester were the most animated, Saracens came closer to breaking the impasse. They set up a maul on the Gloucester line which the defenders were penalised for collapsing. But instead of accepting the scrum, the Saracens opted for a kick at goal, which Andy Lee missed. So 23 untidy minutes passed before the Saracens' full-back, Andy Tunningley, kicked a long penalty after Greening had failed to release the ball beneath a pile-up.

The tedium was relieved moments later when Mike Peters on the Gloucester right-wing suddenly accelerated the game with a burst down the touchline only to be halted half a dozen metres out. Gloucester couldn't profit, but they moved with alacrity when Saracens almost turned the tables.

Tunningley sent a deep kick upfield, with his centre, Kris Chesney, fastening on to the ball on the Gloucester 22. But Chris Catling, coming from the other side of the field, anticipated the move to intercept him in front of the Gloucester posts. So the teams changed ends with only the Saracens' penalty to show for their efforts. To that Lee added a second penalty, after Gloucester's midfield obstruction, but the outcome became little clearer when Mapletoft halved the Saracens' lead with a penalty.

Then, six minutes from no-side, salvation came for Gloucester from a most unlikely source. Unable to break through or outflank the Saracens defence, Mapletoft sent a drop-kick from 40 metres towards the Saracens goal. There was an intake of exasperated breath from the fans, but even as the ball toppled through the air they realised that it was just going to pass over the crossbar to square the game. And then only two minutes later, again to groans, he repeated the operation in one of the most unpredictable conclusions that Kingsholm has seen all season.

Gloucester: C Catling (A Lumsden, 77); M Peters, C Emmerson, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening (capt), A Deacon (T Woodman, 55), R Fidler, D Sims, P Glanville, S Devereux, N Carter.

Saracens: A Tunningley; K Chesney, P Sella (E Sorrell, 49), S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; A Lee, K Bracken; T Daly, G Botterman, P Wallace, P Johns, T Copsey, J Green, T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: A Rowden (Berks).