Diamond opens up path to Europe

Saracens 24 - Gloucester 16
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The Independent Online

These days it is not where you finish, but rather where you are headed next. That is certainly the way of things in the Premiership.

These days it is not where you finish, but rather where you are headed next. That is certainly the way of things in the Premiership.

Not content with reducing the eight-month, 22-match span of the world's most demanding club competition to a qualifying tournament for the championship and wildcard play-offs - a total of four matches - the game's authorities have also ensured that European qualification is ultimately all that matters.

Which is why Gloucester's sixth place is pretty well worthless. Dean Ryan, their coach, was stoical.

"That's the way it works," he said. "This season we have had a big problem getting players on the field. If we'd had all our first-choice players fit and available we might have finished higher.

"The side we finished the season with does not have enough experience to be in the Heineken Cup. That lack of experience is what we have had to deal with for the last three or four months, so we have ended up missing out narrowly. We have to learn from that and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Always assuming that he and his director of rugby, Nigel Melville, get a chance to right the wrongs of this season. Rumours are rife that one or the other, or even both, will be on their way this summer.

Ryan, while not exactly dismissing the possibility, was clearly, and understandably, sensitive.

"Why shouldn't we be [here next season]?" he said. "As far as I am concerned we are under contract. We are perfectly happy at Gloucester."

The question is, are Gloucester perfectly happy with Melville and Ryan? The answer is, probably, yes. Unless a superior job offer comes along - perhaps with an Irish province or a national age-group side - the pair of them will stay.

There is no such shadow over the future of Steve Diamond after the turnaround in fortunes he has inspired since taking over from Rod Kafer in December, when Saracens were in the wrong half of the table.

The discipline they demonstrated on Saturday, not to mention their patient and pragmatic approach, added a relentlessness to their quest for honours, a quality that can be put down squarely to the hard edge that Diamond, a former Sale hooker, has brought to the post of head coach. It is something he wants to see built upon.

"It is important the players play at the highest level they can," he said. "You are judged on whether you can get into the Heineken Cup. We have a good pack of forwards, an area where English teams have struggled, so we'll see how we'll do."

On the evidence of his first few months in charge, very well.

Saracens: Tries Vyvyan, Johnston, Vaikona; Conversions Jackson 3; Penalty Jackson. Gloucester: Tries B Davies, Eustace; Penalties McRae 2.

Saracens: T Castaignède; B Johnston (R Haughton, 57), K Sorrell, D Harris (M Bartholomeusz, 62), T Vaikona; G Jackson, M Rauluni (K Bracken, 56); N Lloyd (Visagie, 67), R Ibañez (M Cairns, 56), C Visagie (K Yates, 56), I Fullarton (K Chesney, 71), S Raiwalui (Chesney, 49-60), B Skirving, R Hill (T Randell, 56), H Vyvyan (capt).

Gloucester: B Davies; S Kiole (T Fanolua, h-t), J Simpson-Daniel, J Forrester, J Bailey (M Foster, 51); D McRae, A Gomarsall; N Wood (T Sigley, 73), M Davies (O Azam, 76), G Powell, A Eustace, A Brown, P Buxton, L Narraway, A Balding (capt).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).