Saracens secured a home Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off semi-final with an emphatic victory over the team most likely to be their opponents on the second weekend in May.
South African duo Schalk Brits and Ernst Joubert ran in first-half tries for Sarries with prop Matthew Stevens and winger David Strettle crossing after the break. Gloucester’s tries came from James Simpson-Daniel and Henry Trinder. The victory was Saracens’ ninth on the trot and moved them within a point of Leicester at the top of the table.
Saracens made the better start and drew Gloucester into conceding a penalty at the breakdown after four minutes, but Alex Goode’s kick from wide on the left hooked outside the near post. Gloucester came within a whisker of taking the lead on 20 minutes, but a Freddie Burns penalty from just inside the Saracens half struck the left-hand upright.
Within sixty seconds, Saracens were ahead. Working the ball up the left, the hosts changed gear, wing James Short and hooker Brits exchanged passes and Brits galloped clear for his sixth try of the season, converted by Goode. Saracens struck again on the half-hour. Jacques Burger peeled off the back of a left-wing lineout close to the Gloucester line, fed Joubert who was driven over by the pack despite desperate efforts by Gloucester on their line.
Referee David Pearson consulted the video referee before raising his arm, and Goode’s conversion, from the same area as his earlier penalty, ended up missing the same post.
Gloucester struck back in style six minutes from the interval. Charlie Sharples was fed on the left from a scrum, found Tom Voyce who raced upfield, timing his offload to perfection to send Simpson-Daniel in by the flag. Burns missed the conversion.
Goode, however, did not miss when Gloucester conceded a penalty in front of their posts to halt another surging Saracens attack seconds from half-time.
Saracens scored their third try four minutes into the second half. Mouritz Botha smashed into the heart of the defence, Richard Wigglesworth dummied to pass and darted for the line before delivering a clever reverse pass for Stevens to score from close range. Goode added the conversion.
Goode added a penalty to his tally on 50 minutes, which meant Gloucester needed badly to be the scorers of the next points recorded. However, the Cherry and Whites found themselves increasingly under siege, and after surviving two prolonged driving mauls, they were happy to concede three points rather than another seven and went offside. Goode kicked the goal on 57 minutes.
Gloucester raised their game heading into the final quarter and scored a try when Brett Deacon rescued the ball off the ground and Trinder raced away up the right, swerving round the outside of the prone figure of Hugh Vyvyan, being treated by three medics while play continued. Trinder’s pace took him clear of the defence, and Ryan Mills added the conversion.
This only served to rouse the home side who resumed battering the visiting defence. This time Pearson’s patience ran out and Luke Narraway was sin-binned for ball killing. Saracens decided to take a penalty scrum, which came to nothing. But the pressure had to tell, and Gloucester cracked in the 79th minute as Strettle was sent hurtling home on the right for the fourth, bonus-point winning try, Goode’s conversion completing the scoring.