James Hook slotted a last-gasp penalty to claim Gloucester Rugby a dramatic victory over Saracens in a superb clash at Kingsholm.
In an eventful night in the West Country that saw five tries, four yellow cards and two serious-looking injuries to Ben Morgan and Nick Wood it appeared that Gloucester had blown their chance when Hook’s late drop goal attempt was well wide.
But with time up Gloucester won a penalty on halfway and Hook, who had been inconsistent from the kicking tee all night, held his nerve to seal a superb victory, Gloucester’s first in their last four league games at home.
The rolling maul was Sarries’ chief weapon all night and JP Doyle awarded a penalty try to put the visitors in front early on.
Dan Robson scored a magnificent solo effort to reduce arrears as James Hook and Alex Goode traded two penalties each but the visitors went in 13-11 ahead at the interval.
And they stretched their lead not long after when No.8 Billy Vunipola barged over at the back of yet another driving maul.
A third Hook penalty and then a stunning team try that was finished off by Callum Braley then put then put the hosts in front before Mako Vunipola responded.
Goode missed the conversion to keep it close however and in the face of mounting pressure Sarries’ defence could not hold on forever as Hook held his nerve to ensure the hosts did not slip to their fourth league defeat in a row at home for the first time since the 1995/96 season.
England fly-half Owen Farrell was a late withdrawal with a tight calf prompting a reshuffle of the Sarries’ backline, Goode stepping up from full-back to fly-half with Ben Ransom taking over the No.15 shirt.
For Gloucester there werw a couple of late drop-outs as well, Tom Palmer and Greig Laidlaw both taken ill meaning Elliott Stooke and Robson came in respectively, but it was Sarries who started brighter.
Goode knocked a kickable penalty into the corner and after a couple of lineout drives referee JP Doyle awarded the visitors a penalty try, Goode’s conversion making it 7-0 with eight minutes on the clock.
The hosts then set about mustering a response and before the quarter hour they should have had their first try, as a Matt Kvesic charge-down put Twelvetrees clear down the left with one man to beat. But the England centre butchered the chance, opting to take the tackle when he should have released Jonny May for a simple score.
Luckily for Twelvetrees, Gloucester won a penalty as Sarries killed the ball and Hook slotted over to reduce arrears.
Hook then showed his menace with ball in hand, slicing clear down the right as Gloucester won another penalty that the Welsh fly-half again slotted over to make it 7-6.
But no sooner had they closed the gap than Saracens opened it out again, Goode on target with successive penalties to re-establish a seven-point lead.
On the half-hour mark Sarries then had a let off as Hook’s penalty from bang in front came back off the post but the Cherry & Whites were the dominant force as half-time approached.
A fine rolling maul had the Kingsholm crowd on their feet and when the ball was spread left scrum-half Robson was dragged into touch as he tried to break down the short side.
But Saracens’ reprieve only lasted moments and it was the sniping Robson who claimed the hosts first-try – the scrum half again darting down the short side, chipping over the top and chasing to dive on the loose ball for a fantastic score.
Hook’s conversion was wide however to leave Saracens in front at 13-11 but life got harder just before the interval – David Strettle sent to the sin bin in the 39th minute for a deliberate knock on.
Hook continued to misfire from the tee however, pushing the penalty wide meaning Sarries went in at the break clinging on to their lead.
After the interval Saracens turned to their most potent weapon – the rolling maul – and a thunderous drive into the Gloucester 22 won another penalty with Tom Savage sent to the sin bin.
Goode kicked to the corner again and there was no stopping Sarries as Billy Vunipola emerged as the try scorer at the back of another driving maul, Goode missing with the tough conversion to leave it at 18-11.
Gloucester nearly had an immediate response but Hook’s dive for the line was held up brilliantly by Goode after fine work from Mark Atkinson and May had got the Cherry & Whites close.
From the subsequent five-metre scrum England No.8 Morgan trucked the ball up but appeared to fall awkwardly and was stretchered off, after a lengthy break, with a suspected broken leg.
Both sides’ momentum was clearly disrupted by the interruption but on the hour mark Gloucester closed the gap as Hook slotted a regulation penalty.
And then the game was turned on its head as Kingsholm was treated to an early contender for try of the year.
May picked up the ball on his own five-metre line and jinked his way past three defenders to get up to the 22, the ball was then spread right and Gareth Evans – on for the injured Morgan – burst through two defenders, carrying deep into Sarries’ half before offloading to Braley who raced clear for a remarkable score.
Hook was never going to miss with the conversion to make it 21-18 and Sarries were right up against it – even more so when George Kruis saw yellow for a tip tackle.
Wood was then stretchered off and, with May now in the sin bin, Sarries turned the game on its head again, England prop Vunipola stretching out his arm to score from close range after yet another driving maul.
Goode missed the conversion to ensure a nervy finish as Hook skewed a hopeful drop-goal attempt in the closing stages, before Saracens’ Chris Ashton had a last-minute try disallowed for offside to set the stage for Hook’s heroics with the last kick of the game.