Leaders Gloucester moved six points clear at the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP summit after Ryan Lamb inspired an emphatic victory over subdued Saracens.
With bottom club Leeds Carnegie the visitors to Kingsholm next Saturday, another bonus point win would edge Gloucester towards a home game in next month’s title play-offs.
Heineken Cup semi-finalists Saracens though, saw their play-off hopes effectively disappear as fly-half Lamb ran the show.
Lamb scored 19 points, including two tries in three minutes at the start of a one-sided second period, as Gloucester romped home.
They finished with six tries – centre James Simpson-Daniel, flanker Akapusi Qera, wing Lesley Vainikolo and scrum-half Rory Lawson also touched down – but it could have been more, such was their dominance.
Head coach Dean Ryan will be thrilled by his team’s response a week after crashing out of the Heineken Cup at home to Munster.
In contrast, Saracens were brought crashing to earth with a thud following the highs of their Heineken quarter-final success against star-studded Welsh side the Ospreys.
The visitors claimed two injury-time consolation tries – centre Adam Powell and number eight Ben Skirving were the scorers – while Glen Jackson kicked a penalty and Gordon Ross booted a conversion, but they were outclassed.
Gloucester’s lead at the top could be cut by title rivals Bath, Harlequins or Leicester during the next three days, yet they could take some dislodging from pole position.
Injury-hit Saracens were without full-back Brent Russell, wing Francisco Leonelli, centre Andy Farrell and flanker Paul Gustard, although only Farrell – who underwent shoulder surgery on Friday – is a confirmed non-starter for their Munster semi-final on April 27.
Ryan, meanwhile, made five changes following his team’s European exit, which included England centre Mike Tindall making his first Premiership appearance since January 26.
Tindall suffered a torn liver, punctured lung and internal bleeding while on RBS 6 Nations duty a week later, problems which put him in the intensive care unit of a London hospital for three days.
Tindall partnered Simpson-Daniel in midfield, but Scotland star Chris Paterson, who missed three first-half penalties against Munster, was replaced on the wing by Iain Balshaw.
Saracens should have taken an early lead when wing Dan Scarbrough burst through a yawning midfield gap, but the chance went begging when he threw out a reckless pass.
The Saracens coaching staff were aghast at Scarbrough’s dreadful execution, and Gloucester took just a further 11 minutes to make the visitors pay by claiming two well-crafted tries.
Simpson-Daniel collected the opener, finishing off a sweeping move that featured telling bursts from Qera and skipper Marco Bortolami.
Lamb converted from the touchline, before Saracens were opened up again and Qera touched down after fielding Balshaw’s long, accurate pass.
Stung into action, Saracens produced a sustained spell of pressure that featured powerful contributions by Hugh Vyvyan and Skirving, yet a Jackson penalty proved their solitary reward.
And Gloucester restored a 12-point advantage on the stroke of half-time when Lamb landed an angled penalty, leaving Saracens facing an uphill task.
Saracens’ victory hopes evaporated within six minutes of the restart when they conceded two more tries – and both touchdowns had origins in their own mistakes.
A poor clearance kick led to the first, although there was little Saracens could do to stop Lamb’s brilliant run as he side-stepped his way over, beating three players in the process.
And then Lamb intercepted Saracens captain Neil de Kock’s pass 60 metres out, racing clear despite a valiant chase by wing Richard Haughton.
Lamb’s conversion made it 29-3, securing a bonus point with more than 30 minutes still remaining and ending the game as a contest.
But Gloucester were in no mood to show Saracens mercy, and a scintillating 60-metre attack involving half-a-dozen players ended with Vainikolo rampaging his way over.
Gloucester should have added a sixth touchdown just two minutes later, yet Bortolami failed to catch Balshaw’s tap-down from a Lamb kick.
Saracens couldn’t escape though, and after lock Tom Ryder was sin-binned for a technical offence, Lawson sniped his way over, meaning that Gloucester had scored 24 unanswered points in 25 minutes.
It was breathtaking rugby, and although Saracens posted two consolation tries, Gloucester had more than done enough.