David Strettle scored twice in Saracens’ 44-12 bonus-point victory over Gloucester Rugby who were forced to play 79 minutes of their Aviva Premiership clash at Allianz Park with 14 men.
The turning point came after just 73 seconds when Gloucester prop Nick Wood received a red card for appearing to stamp on Jacques Burger’s head in the ruck.
The visitors battled valiantly thereafter and went in at the break 12-10 ahead, but two second-half tries from Strettle, as well as efforts from Joel Tomkins, Schalk Brits, Billy Vunipola and 17 points from the boot of fly-half Owen Farrell, saw the hosts to successive Aviva Premiership wins.
Gloucester got off to a nightmare start when Wood was given his marching orders by referee Wayne Barnes after the incident with Burger in the first minute.
The visitors responded well though and won a penalty, which Freddie Burns drifted wide, but the fly-half made amends from considerably further out on 11 minutes to open the scoring.
Gloucester were more than holding their own in the opening quarter and enjoyed most of the territory – Chris Ashton’s break symptomatic of Saracens’ early play with it coming in his own half.
However, the hosts burst into life with some sharp handling from Duncan Taylor and Strettle creating the space which eventually allowed Tomkins to cross on 21 minutes. Farrell’s two points made it 7-3.
The England star was less precise with his next attempt – a penalty from out wide – and Burns, making his 100th appearance for the Cherry and Whites, brought the deficit back to one point for Gloucester on the half-hour mark with a three-pointer of his own.
Rob Cook was then penalised for infringement and that allowed Farrell to find his range in front of the posts.
But Burns responded yet again with a brilliant long-range penalty and his fourth of the day – seconds before the break – gave Gloucester an unlikely 12-10 half-time lead.
Sarries and Farrell were quick to respond after the interval, within two minutes they had regained the initiative with a kick no further out than 20 metres.
Up until the 50-minute mark it had barely been noticeable that Gloucester were a man down but some quick hands from Saracens left them exposed.
Great play from the breakdown found Tomkins who in turn released Cook and he had a man over in Strettle who had the simplest of tasks to cross in the left corner.
Farrell’s conversion, and a penalty on 53 minutes, opened up an 11-point cushion for the hosts.
More good news for the Allianz Park faithful followed with the introduction of summer recruit James Johnston for his debut and more bad news for Gloucester arrived in the form of a yellow card for Sione Kalamafoni.
The sheer weight of numbers, and the drive, allowed the hosts to take full advantage with Brits benefitting just before the hour mark. Farrell took the game beyond Gloucester with the conversion that brought up 30 points for Sarries.
A big hit from Burger then forced Burns off with an injury that left the visitors, who had used all of their replacements, with 13 men for the last seven minutes.
And it proved decisive as Vunipola forced his way over with three minutes to go to seal that vital bonus point and Strettle rubbed salt into the wound with a try in the last minute.