Saracens are in mould-breaking mood. Not content with lifting the Aviva Premiership trophy for the first time in May, they are in hot pursuit of a second. They confirmed their intention last night by smashing Gloucester's cherished 22-game unbeaten home record.
They left it late but Saracens will say it is an 80-minute game. Only four of those minutes remained when Brad Barritt slid on to a deft kick by Owen Farrell and the video official confirmed he had beaten Olly Morgan to the touchdown. Farrell, with three penalties to his credit, kicked the simple conversion that won the match.
Farrell attracted so many plaudits for his maturity at fly-half last season. Here he started at outside-centre but frequently popped up at first receiver until he took over from Charlie Hodgson, first as goalkicker, then as pivot.
So Saracens remain in behind unbeaten Harlequins at the top of the table, a menacing presence despite what Mark McCall, their head coach, said was an ill-disciplined performance. "We were very disappointed with a lot of aspects, we did a lot of things poorly,we were rattled from time to time," McCall said. "But this group is prettyspecial, they found a way to win."
That is why Saracens keep collecting wins on the road and other clubs, notably Gloucester, do not. Yet you could forgive Bryan Redpath, Gloucester's head coach, for believing that his side controlled three-quarters of the game, only to concede sufficient penalties to help Saracens back into it.
One of those penalties led to Barritt's try. Rory Lawson, trying to collect a box kick by Neil de Kock knocked on and David Lewis picked up the ball in an offside position. Saracens, five points down, went for a line-out, Kelly Brown made the catch and Farrell worked his magic with the boot. It was the only way Saracens looked likely to break a fine defensive display. The home club's line speed reduced the time and space available, even to an outstanding tactical kicker like Hodgson, and their appetite in the tackle,particularly from two Pacific islanders, Akapusi Qera and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, was huge.
Both those players had disappointing World Cups, with Fiji and Samoa, and Fuimaono-Sapolu acquired a reputation as the tournament's leading Tweeter. Mike Tindall's World Cup was equally disappointing and he joined the fray in the second half primed to make up in club colours for England's failure. He was so eager that he sent for the Gloucester tactical calls when he was omitted for the quarter-final against France.
When Morgan scored the game's first try, Gloucester had already thrown away a gilt-edged chance after a break by Johnny May. The wing, later removed in some discomfort with a damaged hip, made the extra man and had his pass to Morgan been better, Charlie Sharples would surelyhave crossed in the corner.
Morgan made up for that by taking Farrell's high kick, weaving past Saracens and linking with Henry Trinder before taking the return to complete a 60-metre try. With Freddie Burns kicking two penalties, Gloucester were well placed to benefit from their dominance at the scrum and willingness to play a wide game.
Hodgson kicked one of three penalty attempts before handing the kicking to Farrell and though he brought Saracens up to 11-9, the gap widened again when Burns's replacement, Tim Taylor, kicked two penalties. But Gloucester had lost their advantage at the scrum, thrown perhaps when Nick Wood and Rhys Gill spent time in the sin-bin after squaring up to each other. Wood might have been better employed helping his pack drive a maul towards the line.
Arguably the experience of De Kock swung the game towards Saracens, as well as the replacement on the wing of May by a scrum-half, Lewis. The Saracens No 9 made the dart which led to Gloucester conceding a penalty at a ruck, which Farrell kicked for 17-12 with eight minutes left. Since De Kock's kick led to the clinching score, the South African scrum-half will have returned home well pleased with his night's work.
Gloucester O Morgan; C Sharples, H Trinder (M Tindall, 54), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J May (D Lewis, 59); F Burns (T Taylor, 54), R Lawson; N Wood, D Dawidiuk (S Lawson, 59), R Harden, W James (T Savage, 75), J Hamilton, A Strokosch, L Narraway (capt; P Buxton, 71), A Qera (D Murphy, 49-59).
Saracens A Goode, D Strettle, O Farrell, B Barritt, J Short (B Spencer, 51); C Hodgson (J Maddock, 66), N de Kock; R Gill, S Brits, C Nieto (M Stevens, 49), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (H Smith, 51), K Brown, E Joubert, J Burger (D Carstens, 49-59; Saull, 66).
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).
Pens: Burns 2, Taylor 2
Pens: Hodgson, Farrell 3Reuse content