Saracens 44 Gloucester 12 match report: 14-man Gloucester sink to the bottom after Wood’s early rush of blood

 

Allianz Park

There is not much love around the English club game right now: hard words are being spoken on the vexed subject of European rugby – Nigel Wray, the Saracens chairman, poured an entire pipeline’s worth of petrol on the flames consuming the Heineken Cup on Sunday by declaring that the Premiership teams would be “quite crazy” to stay in the tournament  beyond the end of the season – and even harder lessons are being learnt by sides who let their discipline slip. Ask Gloucester, who really copped it in London yesterday and find themselves at the foot of the table as a consequence.

Charged with the not inconsiderable task of righting a long list of opening-day wrongs by becoming the first team to beat Saracens in a regular-season game on the artificial turf at Allianz Park, the West Countrymen were full of bristling intent for the first minute - and spent the next 79 minutes paying for their pumped-uppedness. Nick Wood, nobody's idea of a serial front-row criminal, had two attempts at rucking the flanker Jacques Burger out of a ruck, made contact with the Namibian's scalp on the second dig and was promptly sent off by the  international referee Wayne Barnes.

“Nick is in bits in the dressing room,” said Nigel Davies, the Gloucester rugby director, when asked the obvious question. If truth be told, Wood was in pieces long before he returned to the inner sanctum. Following the flourishing of the red card, he apologised to the prone Burger, made his way slowly to the bench with an expression of  purest misery on his face and spent the next few minutes staring downwards, head in hands.

Only when his club-mate Akapusi Qera materialised next to him midway through the first quarter - the Fijian flanker had been sacrificed on the altar of necessity because the visitors needed Dan Murphy on the field to fill the hole in their front row - did the guilty man look up. Cue another apology, to Qera, which was every bit as heartfelt as the first. “Nick's a good guy,” Davies continued. “I saw the incident on the big screen like everyone else and it didn't look good, but we all make mistakes.”

Strange to relate, the boss was a whole lot happier with the way his side played with 14 men than he had been when a full 15-man complement disappeared down the tubes against Sale in the opening round of league games. (It is worth pointing out at this juncture that Wood was by no means blameless in that first fixture, having spent time in the sin bin for a technical offence. The England Saxons prop is not having a great time of it just at the moment, to say the very least.)

“I thought the way we went about our business here, where it was always going to be tough for us anyway, was better than in the Sale match,” Davies argued, “and while we're not exactly where we want to be in terms of the table, I think it's difficult to make a judgement on where we are as a team on the evidence of this scoreline. Under such circumstances, an accurate reflection is impossible.”

Yet this much is crystal clear: unless Gloucester make a sharp improvement at the sharp end - that is to say, in the tight-five department - they will be eaten alive by the likes of Northampton and Leicester, who are every bit as powerful up front as Saracens; the home side were able to bring such  renowned international grunt-and-groaners as Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, James Johnston and Mouritz Botha off the bench.

During the close season, the Cherry and Whites were linked with the highly rated young Welsh prop Samson Lee, but if their interest was even remotely serious - the club distanced themselves from the story at an early stage - nothing came of it. On this showing, though, the Scarlets tight head would have made all the difference: a Samson in a front row of Delilahs.

While Saracens made heavy weather of capitalising on their superior physicality at close quarters, accentuated by the numerical advantage arising from Wood's unusually early departure, the force with which they were able to propel their driving mauls in a staccato, error-strewn opening half indicated that the traffic after the interval would be of the one-way variety. And so it proved: the former champions went from 12-10 down at the break to 30-12 up in the space of 17 minutes.

With the Lions prop Matt Stevens, supposedly retired from international rugby, making turnover plays by the dozen and Billy Vunipola, the hot-shot signing in the back row, splattering first-up tacklers all over the capital, the wits and wizards in the Gloucester back division - Freddie Burns and Henry Trinder, James Simpson-Daniel and the excellent Rob Cook - found themselves in high-speed retreat. Burns, who had kicked quite beautifully in unhelpful conditions in the opening 40, did not have so much as a single shot at the sticks in the second stanza.

Owen Farrell, less eye-catching than his England rival Burns and nowhere near as accurate from the tee, nudged Saracens ahead with a penalty before the unheralded centre Duncan Taylor, who had played a significant part in Joel Tomkins' early try, cut another geometer's angle to open up a route to the line for David Strettle. Thereafter, the points came thick and fast: route-one finishes for Brits and the younger of the Vunipola brothers; a kick-and-chase score for the ever-willing Strettle at the death.

It may well be that the Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards, that great connoisseur of rugby as trench warfare, was right to suggest that there are now two Premierships in one: the first restricted to Saracens, Leicester and Northampton with all their muscle and tonnage; the second open to everyone else.

“Can we match the big teams up front?” mused Davies when asked about the tight-five differential. “That's the challenge, definitely. Mind you, I'd be a lot more confident of doing it if we could keep eight forwards on the pitch.”

 

Get Adobe Flash player


Scorers: Saracens: Tries Strettle 2, Tomkins, Brits,  B Vunipola; Conversions Farrell 4, Spencer;  Penalties Farrell 3. Gloucester: Penalties Burns 4.

Saracens: C Wyles; C Ashton, J Tomkins, D Taylor (B Ransom 71), D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 71); R Gill (M Vunipola 12-16 and 45), J George (S Brits 54), M Stevens (J Johnston 54), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (M Botha 54), B Vunipola, J Burger, E Joubert (J Wray 72).

Gloucester: R Cook (M Thomas 59); C Sharples, H Trinder (M Tindall 65), W Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns (Cook 72), T Knoyle (J Cowan 59); N Wood, D Dawidiuk (K Britton 59), R Harden (Y Thomas 53), T Savage (capt), L Lokotui (E Stooke 53), M Kvesic, A Qera (D Murphy 6), S Kalamafoni (B Morgan 66).

Referee: W Barnes (London).

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam