Saracens first visitors of the New Year were a much improved Gloucester, a team I was looking forward to seeing live, with a couple of highly rated Scotland players in their ranks, in Adam Hastings at 10 and Chris Harris in the Centres. Two forwards in particular had caught my eye over the time Saracens were away from the Premiership. Jordie Reid, who stands out for far more than his dreadlocks and Lewis Ludlow, captain and home grown player. It was interesting to see another Argentinian on the wing, Santiago Carreras, he’s played for his country 15 times. I hadn’t realised Reid was Australian, he’s not unlike David Pocock in many ways, a truly great rugby player.
This was Jamie George’s first match back at Stonex after the injury he picked up playing for England, he’d captained his team to a win at Northampton and took the job again for this match. Hopefully that means the co-captain thing is behind this team. One of the early highlights, because of its rarity was a kick downfield by Mako Vunipola, it wasn’t great, but he’s one of the last people you’d expect to get his boot to the ball.
This was a well contested game, which started out in dry weather before things took a turn for the worse with rain aplenty. I wish there were stats available for pointless kicks and dropped balls, but sadly no one keeps track of them, I may well do next game, the kicks anyway. 12 minutes in on the re-run and I can hear the TMO, Claire Hodnett intervening to tell Karl Dickson that Rotimi Segun had run into Jonny May; without wanting to bash the officials I felt that the TMO seemed more likely to see something if the player was in a black shirt. The upshot of this penalty was eventually a try from a rolling maul from a line-out from a further penalty. Fraser Balmain had ball in hand as Gloucester went over the line. The conversion was missed by Hastings.
Having said that about the officials Gloucester saw yellow twice in the space of a couple of minutes as firstly Carreras who was deemed to have ‘deliberately’ knocked on. Saracens went towards the line after the line-out from the resulting penalty and Ludlow was judged to have gone in from the side, I could hear that on the ref link. to add insult to Gloucester’s injury, Dom Morris, who’s been linked to Munster popped up to take an easy run in to score Saracens’ first try of the day. Alex Goode converted the try and Saracens had a narrow 2 point lead.
With 15 against 13 the kick rugby started, it was Gloucester who found touch after a couple of exchanges. Goode kicked to touch after Gloucester gave away a penalty close to their line, the maul didn’t make much headway in spite of Alex Lozowski joining in, but Segun took the ball from Van Zyl and zig zagged through 3 defenders.
Gloucester hit back almost immediately as Saracens failed to deal with the kick off, Carreras contesting the ball with Maro Itoje, the ball fell nicely for Reid who stormed through several defenders, Jack Singleton, who impressed, took the ball from a lovely flip up, a great try; but I’d have liked the potential knock on checked. Gloucester were back to 15 and both teams had scored 7. Not a great return for the home team.
Elliot Daly showed some magic as he danced down the wing, chipping over the Gloucester defender, he took the ball, but the defender took him into touch.
Mako Vuniploa committed 2 penalties in quick succession just before half time, he isn’t really able to disguise himself when he’s up to no good on the floor, the first led to a line out, which brought the second as he took the maul down after Gloucester had rolled down in well into Saracens 22. That card didn’t cost Saracens any points. Jamie George showed him how to put a kick in as he was walking off. A kick worthy of a Back no doubt.
Saracens conceded a penalty on their 22, in fact 2 penalties as the TMO came in again, Hastings put Gloucester into the lead, with 52 minutes on the clock. Theo McFarland , with 20 on his back, replaced Tim Swinson as the kick went over , his first touch of the ball as a charge down, which fell perfectly for him, he ran in to score. That’s how to announce your presence! His first Premiership try. I have a feeling he’s going to become a key player for Saracens. Lozowski missed what should have beeb a simple conversion.
Saracens gace away 14 penalties in this game, that, is a problematical number of mistakes. We had another spell of kicking and eventually Segun was deemed to have dropped the ball forwards, giving Gloucester key territory it seemed to go backwards between his legs, worth a TMO check for me.
Gloucester’s forwards are a force to reckon with this season, but on this occasion the ball was spilt forwards, however the TMO spotted a high tackle, so they went again via a line-out. Another 20 came on, Jack Clement , during his first involvement he was awarded the try that came as Gloucester rolled over the line. The visitors had a lead of 3 after a successful conversion with 7 minutes remaining.
Chrtis Harris won Gloucester a penalty with a fierce tackle on Lozowski, who didn’t release the ball. Hastings took his time with this one, having been told by the referee that he was fine for time. Looking at the clock now in replay, the penalty was awarded on 74 minutes Hastings started his prep on 74:50 and kicked it on 75:28 – well within the minute allowed. The boo’s that rung around the ground were not a good sound, especially for something every fan would want their 10 to do in the same position.
With around 3 minutes remaining Saracens scored the try of the game as Alex Lewington soared through 3 defenders to score. Lozowski’s kick would have won the game for Saracens, but it was a tough one and it went wide.
Gloucester had their first away win at Stonex and their first away win against them since 2008, they deserved the result and their fans could certainly be heard in the ground. Saracens very much need to look at their game plan, the constant kicking when they have skills galore in the backs just isn’t working. Gloucester move into (that should say, stay in) fourth, with Harlequins in third showing last season wasn’t a fluke. Saracens in second and Leicester Tigers heading the table. I think most Saracens would’ve taken that at the halfway mark as the Premiership now breaks for the European competitions. Round 14 at the end of January sees Saracens travel to Wasps and Gloucester to Newcastle. The current Top 4 has a certain ring to it, I’d be more than happy to see it stay that way.
I managed to ‘pinch’ a lovely photo from the Gloucester fan page, 2 very proud Mum’s and rightly so!