Diamond's gems earn a ticket to Europe

Gloucester 16 - Saracens 24
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The Independent Online

The long wait is over. Saracens are back in the Heineken Cup after an absence of four seasons, and they can take Andy Farrell, their rugby league convert, into Europe with them.

The long wait is over. Saracens are back in the Heineken Cup after an absence of four seasons, and they can take Andy Farrell, their rugby league convert, into Europe with them.

It is a wonderful turn-around in their season because in the run-up to Christmas they were firmly in the wrong half of the table. But the replacement of Rod Kafer as coach by Steve Diamond marked a sea change in position and playing philosophy.

Suddenly they were a side to be feared. That is because of Diamond, a former forward with more stick than carat to him. He has produced an efficient, even ruthless side, as they proved with a competent, and just occasionally thrilling, performance against Gloucester yesterday.

Diamond said: "It's great being in the Heineken Cup, because we don't want to be second-rate, and by being in Europe it means we are going places."

Wildcard it may have been labelled, but patience was the quality required in the early stages. Saracens' defence was exemplary. There were a couple of bad moments early on when Gloucester's fly-half, Duncan McRae, slotted two penalties, but thereafter the men in black cast a deeper shadow than their opponents. There is little doubt that Gloucester missed their England prop Phil Vickery, who is almost certainly going to miss out on the Lions trip.

His coach, Dean Ryan, said: "I'd be astonished if the Lions took him without the proper games under his belt." So Vickery's best hope of summer travel is a Churchill Cup trip to Canada with England.

Even though their captain, Hugh Vyvyan, opened the scoring with a try converted by the reliable Glen Jackson, Saracens were helped hugely by McRae's wayward goal-kicking. He missed three penalties and the conversion of Brad Davies' second-half try before being replaced. Sadly, Davies missed his attempt to convert Adam Eustace's 60th-minute try.

Gloucester's performance lacked conviction. They may have smoked at times, but there was no fire. More often than not their pacy backs were reduced to running across the face of a superbly marshalled Saracens defence. Mistakes and turnovers built up at critical moments and when Tevita Vaikona slalomed through the ragged cover with five minutes left, that was pretty much that.

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, R Ibañez (M Cairns, 56; Visagie, 69), C Visagie (K Yates, 56), I Fullarton (K Chesney, 71), S Raiwalui (Chesney, 49-60), B Skirving, H Vyvyan (capt), R Hill (T Randell, 56).

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, A Balding (capt), L Narraway.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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