Rugby Union: Saracens on course for Europe

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Saracens 26 Gloucester 10

THE CROWD may only have been just over a quarter of the number anticipated for Watford's crucial league fixture here on Sunday, but Saracens' lowest Premiership attendance of the season, 5,261, did at least have a comfortable victory to cheer.

A first-half try by scrum-half Kyran Bracken, back in action seven weeks after injuring a knee for England against France, set Saracens on the way and, after the recent jitters of four straight league defeats, they look set for a European Cup place next season.

It never rains but it pours for Gloucester's supporters. A coach carrying 40 of them to the match blew a tyre and they made it to Vicarage Road at half-time. By that point their heroes were badly in need of support, trailing 18-3, despite a promising first 10 minutes and on their way to a record eighth league defeat in a row.

Gloucester's initial verve having come to nothing in terms of points, they fell behind to an opening penalty goal by the First Division's second highest point scorer, Gavin Johnson. A penalty in swift reply by Stephen Ward merely sparked a burst of 15 points from Saracens in the last nine minutes of the first half.

Johnson landed his second penalty, then Bracken, following up his own chip kick, took a pass from Ryan Constable for a dynamic try in the right- hand corner. Moments before the half-time whistle Ben Cole battered to the line off the back of the scrum, Johnson converting.

Johnson moved on to 286 points for the season, with another penalty before Gloucester worked a try for their flanker Adam Eustace, converted by Ward.

But the highlight of a generally drab match came with Saracens winger Brendon Daniel, now said to be moving to Harlequins, carving through for a 75th-minute try.

Saracens: Tries Bracken, Cole, Daniel. Conversion Johnson. Penalties Johnson 3.Gloucester: Try Eustace. Conversion S Ward. Penalty S Ward.

Saracens: G Johnson (R Thirlby 70); R Constable, J Thomson, K Sorrell, B Daniel; A Penaud, K Bracken; R Grau (D Flatman 76), G Chuter (M Cairns 24), B Reidy, P Johns (K Chesney 71) C Yandell (P Ogilvie 59), B Cole, R Hill, T Diprose (capt).

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson (T Beim 32), R Tombs, S Ward, R Greenslade- Jones; M Kimber (S Mannix 57), A Sanders; T Woodman, C Fortey (N McCarthy 67), P Vickery, R Fidler (capt) R Ward, A Eustace, A Hazell (N Carter 57), S Ojomoh.

Referee: N Yates (Manchester).

Ebbw Vale beat Welsh League Premier Division rivals Neath 38 - 16, but failed to gain the maximum points they needed to clinch third place in the table and likely European Cup qualification to go with it.