Rugby Union: Saracens rue a lack of class

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The Independent Online
Gloucester 28

Saracens 27

IF SARACENS lose the championship by a narrow margin they will have cause to look back at this fixture and rue the five players they were missing through international duty.

The visitors' situation was further exacerbated by the unavailability of Kyran Bracken, Jeremy Thomson and Ryan Constable through injury, but it was in the front five that Gloucester overpowered them and dominated the first half.

Disciplined and strong as the Gloucester forwards were, they were helped considerably by Roberto Grau and Paul Wallace plying their trade for Argentina and Ireland respectively.

And yet a thrilling second-half fight-back led by Gavin Johnson, at fly- half because of a thigh injury sustained by Alain Penaud mid-way through the first half, nearly punctured the myth of fortress Kingsholm. Tries by Kevin Sorrell and Phil Ogilvie narrowed the score to 25-20 but a Simon Mannix penalty with 10 minutes remaining meant that Saracens needed more than a single converted score. If they had succeeded it would have been some comeback but the Gloucester defence held firm, albeit only just. To restrict Saracens to only seven points in the final 20 minutes required immense courage and a willingness to put "bodies on the line", exactly the qualities revered by the Shed, and it was this that secured the victory.

They did concede a Steve Ravenscroft try but it was in the closing seconds and the final whistle was greeted with an enormous cheer. The relief was in contrast to the joy at the interval when, led by man-of-the-match Richard Tombs, Gloucester opened up a seemingly impregnable 19 point lead. Ian Sanders left the Saracens defence standing with a quickly-taken free kick for Tombs' first score and he added another brilliant individual effort on the stroke of half time by bursting through a midfield gap 50 yards out.

It was another break by the Gloucester captain that led to Terry Fanolua's try in the 28th minute. At this stage the Gloucester players were completely unaware they would need their defensive skills to secure victory.

Gloucester: A Lumsden; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs (capt), P Saint- Andre; S Mannix, I Sanders; T Windo (T Woodman 72), C Fortey (N McCarthy 55), A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell (D Sims 74), E Pearce, S Ojomoh,N Carter.

Saracens: G Johnson; B Taylor (B Daniel 57), K Sorrell, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; A Penaud (M Singer 28), B Free; B Reidy, G Chuter, W de Jonge (A Olver 42), K Chesney, C Yandell, P Ogilvie (B Cole 73), T Diprose (capt), F Pienaar.

Referee: Ed Morrison.