Saracens retain top spot despite defeat

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The Independent Online

Saracens still head the Zurich Premiership despite slipping to their third, and unluckiest, league defeat of the season by the narrowest of margins against Gloucester at Kingsholm yesterday.

Saracens still head the Zurich Premiership despite slipping to their third, and unluckiest, league defeat of the season by the narrowest of margins against Gloucester at Kingsholm yesterday.

For the second successive weekend, the home side failed to score in the second half, and they ultimately owed their victory to a series of near misses by the visitors. Gloucester pressurised Saracens from the kick-off only for Byron Hayward to miss his first penalty chance in the second minute. However, the Welshman needed only a further two minutes to open his account with another penalty.

Then, with Saracens pinned on their own line, the Gloucester wing Tom Beim pounced through a gap for a fine try under the posts which Hayward converted. Duncan McRae failed with his first penalty attempt before landing his second, but that was all Saracens had to show for a prolonged period of heavy attacking. Their best chance came when their hooker Robbie Russell dropped the ball as he went over between the posts, after which Hayward eased Gloucester's worries with two further penalties before the interval.

Saracens fought back in the second half and twice forced Gloucester to concede tries, both touched down by the Ireland and Lions prop Paul Wallace, when they kicked penalties into the corner and drove over from the resulting line-outs. McRae converted the first try but missed the all important second as Gloucester struggled to regain their first-half momentum. A superb break by their full-back Chris Catling was ruled out because of a forward pass, but Saracens' Australian centre Tim Horan pulled up with an apparent injury when he had the line similarly at his mercy.

Newcastle remain third even though they went down 26-18 at Northampton and had their New Zealand flanker Richard Arnold sent off in the second half for aiming a haymaker at the home prop Matt Stewart. Each side managed two tries - Ali Hepher and Andy Newman crossed for the Saints and Inga Tuigamala and Tom May replied towards the end for Newcastle - but the steadier place-kicking of the former England fly-half Paul Grayson, who was on target with two conversions and four penalties, tilted the balance.

Rotherham's relegation worries deepened as fellow strugglers Bristol widened the gap at the foot of the table with a 32-21 success at the Memorial Stadium. Bristol led 16-6 at half-time after scoring the only try of the opening period through their No 8 Ben Sturnham. Mike Umaga and Chris Murphy touched down for the visitors in the second half with Gareth Baber going over for Bristol's second try. Once again, though, the key was kicking, and Bristol's Steve Vile, whose 22 points took him past 150 in just 11 league outings, had the edge in this department over Luke Smith, Rotherham's South African-born fly-half who was making his league debut.

Meanwhile, the flanker Carlo Caione ran in two of Italy's seven tries as they saw off Romania 37-17 in Rome.

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