Gloucester v Saracens – Can 8 Minutes Define a Season?

Having watched the weather forecast all week I was starting to think that the dastardly thing called nature would thwart my first attempt to travel to Gloucester with flooding and landslides it wasn’t looking good!  I’d decided to let the train take the strain rather than drive which proved to be a good decision as the rain was teeming as I left in the morning.  A leisurely drive to Reading had me on an early train to Swindon to then catch the huge 2 carriage train on to Gloucester; I arrived in plenty of time!  And being the sophisticated lady I am made my way to the Wetherspoons for a diet coke; I was clearly a Saracens fan but as this is rugby had a chat to several Gloucester fans and walked to the ground with some rivals.

photo1 (6)My first thoughts on Kingsholm?  Impressive and packed full of passionate fans; a crowd of 13800 was announced later, wonderful support for a team who have struggled this season.  I’d treated myself to a seat in the Mira stand and found myself sitting on the halfway line amongst very friendly season ticket holders.  Saracens have been on fire this season but Kingsholm must always be a hard place to come and Gloucester gave them a good game at Allianz Park in spite of playing the majority of the game with 14 men.

The game started with a little gamesmanship as Gloucester kept Saracens waiting on the pitch; they emerged to a great ovation from their loyal fans.  Freddie Burns kicked off and Alex Goode started off the way he meant to carry on taking the ball well.  Saracens were awarded an early penalty and Owen Farrell kicked to the corner giving his team a good attacking platform.  Watching the game again on TV the card given to Jimmy Cowan has been explained as he blocked the ball as Billy Vunipola had surged towards the line.  A devastating blow for Gloucester so early in the game again.  Owen Farrell stepped up and converted the penalty to put Saracens ahead.

Saracens were awarded another penalty as Jonny May fumbled a high ball which was then instinctively caught by Matt Cox in front of him.  I do sometimes wonder if rugby fans know the rules of the game they watch – deliberate or not that is offside and a penalty.  Farrell kicked to the corner and Saracens went with a 5 man lineout Schalk Brits broke from the back of the rolling maul passing to Neil De Kock who ran in to score.  Owen Farrell missed the kick, to the delight of the home crowd, having initially placed the ball nearer to the posts than he should.  The sin binning had proved to be costly for Gloucester.

photo3 (6)Neil De Kock looked to have been very badly injured as he flew over the top of Freddie Burns, landing on his head; without wanting to bang on about concussion injuries I was amazed to see him return after a short period off the pitch.  Saracens next penalty came from a collapsed scrum with Sila Puafisi being deemed at fault; Owen Farrell slotted the ball through the posts taking the score to Gloucester 0 Saracens 11.  Saracens had a great attacking opportunity as Marcelo Bosch made an exciting run; the experienced Mike Tindall however took the ball as Bosch attempted the pass. A great piece of play by Tindall, undone however by a poor kick he made as Gloucester tried to clear their lines giving the visitors another attacking opportunity.  Saracens played the ball across the pitch from the lineout, drawing Gloucester in, they then passed to the opposite side and Schalk Brits again became try maker this time passing to David Strettle who ran into the space to score.  Farrell missed another kick, an unusual scenario for the England fly half.

The first 25 minutes weren’t good viewing for the Gloucester fans and it didn’t really get much better for them.  Any ball they got their hands on was kicked away, a very strange tactic considering the quality and speed of the men in the back line and considering it was largely Alex Goode on the receiving end of the kick.  Saracens were awarded with a further penalty as Gloucester went off side and this time Farrell scored the 3 points pushing the lead to 19.  Jackson Wray was penalised for a high tackle giving Gloucester a good attacking platform. I take issue with the BT Sport commentators this time; Wray tried to grab Billy Twelvetrees by the head; it may not have looked like much of a tackle but again, the ref was right it was worth a penalty.  However Gloucester didn’t take advantage of the position they gained.  They did put 3 points on the board after Owen Farrell deliberately blocked Twelvetrees; the kick was a difficult one but Twelvetrees slotted it over with ease.  The teams went in at halftime with the scoreline Gloucester 3 Saracens 19.

photo2 (7)Owen Farrell restarted the game with a kick that sailed straight out, not the best of second half starts.  Again Gloucester couldn’t capitalise on the mistake as their pack were driven back; Alex Goode put in a great kick chased well, Freddie Burns put his boot to the ball but it was charged down for the second time in the game. The ball was kicked into touch and Gloucester were again under huge pressure.  Schalk Brits went very close but the ball was knocked on.  Gloucester failed to clear the ball from their scrum and took the ball across their own line.  After much messing about at the Saracens scrum Billy Vunipola picked up the ball and passed to Owen Farrell as he was falling, Farrell moved the ball quickly to Marcelo Bosch who passed to Alex Goode who ran in to score.  Owen Farrell added the extras to take Saracens points tally to 26.

On 54 minutes a passage of play occurred that should have changed the scoreline as first Billy Vunipola was sent to the sin bin for a clear infringement; not good to see his momentary vent at the referee.  Gloucester kicked to touch and were awarded a further penalty, again it was clear to see a penalty had been committed in the lineout as Steve Borthwick took out Nick Wood who had been lifting Ben Morgan.  Again I disagree with my fellow Saracen fan it was a fair card.  With 56 minutes on the clock Saracens were down to 13 men for at least 8 minutes.   It wasn’t big or clever of the Gloucester fan in front of me to shout ‘scum’ at Borthwick as he came to the side line. No place for that in rugby.

Gloucester sensibly chose to take a scrum against a 7 man Saracens scrum, including Brad Barritt at flanker and here perhaps was the moment that defined both the game and the season of both teams as Saracens won that scrum!  What was noticeable was that as well as the sheer delight of all the players on the pitch, every man on the bench leapt into the air as the referee blew his whistle!  The more I see of Saracens and the more I learn about them as people it is clear that these men want to succeed for each other and that they are genuinely friends.  The only points scored while Saracens were down to 13 men were the 3 Owen Farrell scored with his boot.  That is a remarkable fact and says a lot about the state of affairs in both camps.  In common with the game I saw between Harlequins and Racing Metro this was a team playing against a set of individuals; Gloucester just didn’t click.

photo1 (6)Gloucester did however score a consolation try as Matt Cox scored after his fellow forwards had driven the ball through several phases.  Billy Twelvetrees missed the conversion but that try and the pace injected by the replacement scrum half Dan Robson must give Gloucester hope for the rest of their season.  It was very telling that the season ticket holders around me were pleased that Saracens hadn’t left with a bonus point; it has to be said that they really should have.  But, all in all a great day at the office for Saracens!  The game finished with the score at Gloucester 8 Saracens 29.  Both teams face tough opposition in the Heineken Cup next weekend with Saracens travelling to Toulouse and Gloucester hosting Munster.  Here’s hoping for a win for both!

With no train to rush for I waited at the ground for a while and was able to have a good chat with James Simpson Daniel.  He’d been commentating for radio as he’s recovering from a horrific injury after fracturing and dislocating his ankle.  It had clearly been difficult for him to watch his team and he agreed on the frustration that Gloucester constantly kicked possession away.  We were able to have a quick discussion about the ‘what does rugby do to prepare players for life after rugby?’ subject and it’s becoming clear that Saracens are ahead of the game when it comes to such matters.  More interviews needed I think!

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