Rugby Union: Hill's jungle fighters squash Saracens

Gloucester 38 Saracens 15
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The Independent Online
SARACENS knew full well that they would encounter the rough end of the pineapple at Kingsholm yesterday - their replacements donned protective headgear just to run on with the water - but they could hardly have imagined suffering the full range of indignities on such an epic scale.

The last straw came when Tony Windo, a local prop very nearly as wide as he is tall, took Gloucester past the 30-point mark with a try-scoring swallow dive that could not have been bettered by Johnny Weissmuller in his Tarzan togs.

Kingsholm is pure jungle territory for table-topping visitors and the Londoners found themselves on the wrong end of an almighty rumble in front of 11,000 vitriolic West Countrymen. Francois Pienaar's troop started well enough, registering the opening try before Gloucester had put hand to ball, and they were still looking dangerous at the interval, but they had their short and curlies comprehensively rearranged during a thunderous second 40.

Like Wasps in midweek, Saracens did not even begin to dilute the raw spirit pumping through the veins of the Cherry and White pack. Paddy Johns and Danny Grewcock, the international locks central to the visitors' transformation from also-rans to title candidates, were taken to the cleaners by Mark Cornwell and the outstanding Rob Fidler, who contributed another faultless 80 minutes worth of catching, driving, mauling and tackling. It sounds like an old refrain, but two inches in height and another stone of ballast would make him a world-beater.

Fidler claimed a carbon copy of the try he put past Wasps last Wednesday night, feeding off Cornwell's clean line-out delivery and sweeping his way to the five points with barely a pause for thought. He was also at the heart of the 10 minutes of scrummaging pressure that resulted in Windo's jubilant coup de grace and his general work-rate was such that the highly rated Grewcock looked an innocent bystander by comparison.

If Saracens were soon sick of the sight of the Gloucester locks, they liked the opposition centres, Terry Fanolua and Richie Tombs, even less. Like all South Sea islanders, Fanolua enjoys a tackle; in fact, he lives for his tackling, and the thicker and faster the big hits arrive, the happier he becomes. Tombs, a hard-nut Australian with fail-safe hands and a thorough grounding in rugby common sense, was every bit as effective in snuffing out Saracens' pacy attacks at source.

Pienaar's brace of first-half tries was rubbed off the board by Scott Benton and Fidler and the sides turned round at 15-15. Mark Mapletoft then opened up a six-point lead with penalties on 44 and 55 minutes before Tombs worked some sucker-punch magic in midfield to send Brian Johnson haring under the posts. There was no way back for Sarries, especially when they substituted their strongest scrummager, Roberto Grau, and handed Gloucester a priceless advantage at the set-piece.

It now seems certain that the Premiership will go to the wire and Bath, perennial champions turned dark horse, are licking their lips once more. "They must be absolutely delighted with what we've done for them today," said Richard Hill, the Gloucester coach, as he savoured a famous victory. Hill served Bath with distinction for many years, of course, and he still lives in the city. It's enough to turn Saracens from cock-up merchants into conspiracy theorists.

Gloucester: Tries Benton, Fidler, Johnson, Windo. Conversions Mapletoft 3. Penalties Mapletoft 4. Saracens: Tries Pienaar 2. Conversion Lynagh. Penalty Lynagh.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton; A Windo, C Fortey, P Vickery, R Fidler, M Cornwell (D Sims, 75), P Glanville (capt), S Devereux, N Carter.

Saracens: G Johnson; M Singer, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, M Olsen; R Grau (B Reidy, 64), G Chuter (G Botterman, 51), P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, A Diprose (capt), B Sturnham.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).

l Struggling London Irish sent the champions, Wasps, deeper into the Premiership danger zone with a 38-19 win at Loftus Road yesterday. Conor O'Shea, Isaac Feaunati, Ian McLoughlin and David Humphreys - who was sent to the sin-bin in the first half - scored the Exiles' tries.