On a surface that might have suited Torvill and Dean, it was Gloucester who got their skates on and secured a win that, overnight at least, lifted them to second place in the Guinness Premiership. "There was no rugby played," complained Eddie Jones, the Saracens' director of rugby. The faithful here would disagree.
It was touch and go as to whether the game would weather the weather. At Worcester, where the game was called off, they took the covers off the pitch so the goal- kickers could test the ground, and by the time they had picked up their kicking tees the turf was frozen. Here at Kingsholm they kept the frost sheets on for a lot longer and the referee, Andrew Small, made a couple of inspections before deciding the match could take place, albeit on a semi-frozen surface. Afterwards, spectators were warned to stay off the playing surface, probably because they would be in danger of going head over tip.
It didn't prevent the match from being another interesting episode in the Guinness Premiership, but there were casualties. This saga is becoming tragic, but Andy Farrell, a rugby league legend if less so as a union centre for England, departed the field after just 16 minutes. At CastleGrim there is little cheer, even in the new year.
Farrell, who has been plagued by injuries ever since his move from north to south, went off with what looked like a wrist injury, and did he receive any sympathy from the crowd? They booed and jeered him, the poor old sod.
Farrell, the Saracens captain, was not the only victim. Lesley Vainikolo, the Gloucester wing who had only recently emerged from an appearance at Bath Magistrates' Court following an incident outside a nightclub, was looking in good form until he slipped on the frosty turf and damaged an Achilles tendon. The former England wing was taken off on a stretcher. Was the surface dangerous?
"I wasn't out there," Dean Ryan, the Gloucester head coach, said. "Whether the game takes place is decided by the referee."
Ryan and his Saracens counterpart, the outspoken Australian Jones, were agreed on one thing: the Experimental Law Variations are slowing the game down to a snail's pace. "The International Rugby Board has made the game immeasurably worse than it was 12 months ago," Jones said. "In the first half we won the breakdown, in the second half they won it, and that was that. There was no quick ball. I'm still trying to work it out, mate."
Jones claimed that his outstanding scrum-half Neil de Kock was punched (he wouldn't say by whom), and that he had had no idea why the back-rower Andy Saull, who came on as a second-half replacement, had received a yellow card. Was he bitter? Of course he was, because Saracens, who have won only once here in 20 visits, had the chance to rearrange the statistics slightly.
At half-time they led 16-13, but the second half for them was a wilderness. While Glen Jackson missed a relatively easy penalty, Olly Barkley stepped up to strike over three penalties and that proved the difference, Saracens hanging on for a losing bonus point. When they started they wanted a lot more than that.
Early on, Barkley and Jackson exchanged penalties, and it was after Farrell departed that Gloucester broke the ice with a great attack down the left flank which ended with Olly Morgan, their extremely talented full-back, scoring near the posts. High fives were exchanged between Ryan Lamb, Mike Tindall, Vainikolo and Morgan.
Gloucester, though, could not push on, and with Lamb repeatedly missing touch, Saracens gained some ground and confidence and benefited from some very brave referee-ing from Mr Small, who drew the vitriol of the inhabitants of the Shed and anywhere else by awarding the visitors penalties, one of which was cleverly taken by Jackson.
Having already fallen short with a long-range effort, the New Zealander decided, wisely, not to aim for the posts in the 33rd minute and instead took a tap penalty and kicked the ball to the left wing,where Richard Haughton was waiting. Gloucester weren't. They had turned their backs. It was the last time.
Gloucester went on to drive Sarries into reverse and despite their impressive defence, once trapped inside their own half the visitors were going to fall prey to penalties. Barkley punished them. Jones didn't like it one little bit.
Gloucester: O Morgan; M Watkins, M Tindall (capt), O Barkley, L Vainikolo (M Foster, 30); R Lamb, D Lewis (R Lawson, 56); N Wood, O Azam, C Nieto, A Eustace, A Brown, A Strokosch, L Narraway, A Satala.
Saracens: A Goode; K Ratuvou (N Cato, 46), K Sorrell, A Farrell (capt; A Powell, 16), R Haughton; G Jackson, N de Kock (J Rauluni, 56); M Aguero (N Lloyd, 62), F Ongaro (A Kyriacou, 74), TMercey (C Visagie, 58), H Vyvyan, C Jack, B Skirving,M Owen (A Saull, 47), W van Heerden.
Referee: A Small (London).
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- City Of Westminster Magistrates' Court
- Guinness Premiership
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- Saracens (rugby)