Borthwick hospitalised by stray boot in the eye

Saracens 19 Gloucester 16
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The Independent Online

The England captain Steve Borthwick spent last night in Moorfields Hospital so London's leading eye specialists could assess facial damage which appears to have been inflicted by the boot of the Gloucester's hooker Olivier Azam. Lock Borthwick, just back from suffering rib cartilage damage, took a kick to his right eye 13 minutes into the action at Vicarage Road and was driven to hospital after receiving five stitches from Saracens' medics.

The England manager Martin Johnson will no doubt be anxious with three autumn internationals looming in November against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. Johnson wants to retain Borthwick as his captain – and the Saracens physiotherapist Andrew Walker is confident this incident will have a happy ending.

"Steve received an impact around his right eye, a crescent shaped cut that required five stitches," he explained. "We then took him to hospital so we can open up the eye, which is swollen shut, and have it checked fully. I'd say he will be OK."

If there's any justice, Azam won't be. The video footage Saracens made available to the press room made grim viewing, and the former France hooker can expect a citing very soon that could lead to a lengthy ban.

Azam insists he is innocent, claiming: "I did not deliberately kick Borthwick. Until the accusation, I was not aware I made contact with anyone. My ankle was grabbed at a ruck, but if there was contact then it was an accident."

From what rugby there was played, Saracens made it four wins from four without managing to raise the pulse rate of anyone in the disappointing crowd of 7,777. In keeping with a game that bordered on the wretched at times, Saracens became the first team to be booed to the top of the Guinness Premiership.

How quickly the fans appeared to forget those three consecutive victories on the road, at Twickenham against London Irish, Wembley against Northampton and against Harlequins at The Stoop. But then they were being numbed by prolonged bouts of "kicking tennis", as if both teams had all of a sudden forgotten the demise of the unpopular Experimental Law Variations.

Patience snapped around Vicarage Road in the 67th minute after a seventh successive hoof launched the ball high into the sunshine. Boos rang out – and Saracens clearly heard them, because they scored what has become their customary solitary try seconds later.

Gloucester stood firm in the face of five ram raids on their line, but were undone by two snippets of international quality. The Grand Slam-winning Wales back-rower Michael Owen held possession, back to the line and the former All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall switched direction, arming Schalk Brits to plough through the defence and touch down.

The trusty Glen Jackson brought his personal points tally to 14 with the conversion, but you cannot envisage Saracens going the distance playing this brand of rugby. They were dozing when Gloucester scored an opportunist try after only two minutes. Saracens lost their own lineout, Rory Lawson snaffled up the ball and darted in on the right, a score converted by the former Wales fly-half Nicky Robinson.

Jackson hauled the hosts back into contention with penalties and a drop-goal, but their attritional style denies their wingers the oxygen of adventure, and they will have to open up if a first title is to be claimed.

Scorers: Saracens: Try Brits; Penalties Jackson 3; Conversion Jackson; Drop goal Jackson. Gloucester: Try Lawson; Penalties Robinson 3; Conversion Robinson.

Saracens: A Goode; N Cato (Haughton, 66), K Ratuvou, B Barritt, C Wyles; G Jackson, N De Kock (J Marshall, 64); R Gill (M Aguero, 50), F Ongaro (S Brits, 50), C Nieto (R Skuse, 50), S Borthwick (capt) (H Vyvyan, 13), M Botha, W van Heerden, A Saull (M Owen, 66), E Joubert.

Gloucester: T Voyce; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (capt), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, L Vainikolo; N Robinson, R Lawson; A Dickinson, O Azam (S Lawson, 61), P Doran-Jones (P Capdeville, 53), P Buxton, A Brown, A Strokosch, A Qera (A Hazell, 54), A Eustace.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).

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