Gloucester made amends for their European capitulation courtesy of an impressive six-try 39-15 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm on Saturday.
Gloucester made amends for their European capitulation by cementing their position at the summit of the Premiership courtesy of an impressive six-try 39-15 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm on Saturday.
Sarries balked at suggestions that they are rugby's arch-underachievers following their impressive Heineken Cup quarter-final win over the Ospreys last weekend, but all their eggs now appear to be in one basket – and there they sit in a precarious heap.
They sit sixth in table – some way adrift of Leicester in fifth – and total victory in Europe now seems to be their only hope for silverware.
Gloucester, totally outmuscled by Munster last weekend, managed to boss the forward exchanges against a side dearly lacking the expertise of Richard Hill and the energy of Paul Gustard.
With the black pack in reverse and the sun shining, Gloucester pivot Ryan Lamb ran the show, scoring two tries and conjuring up magic galore.
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.
Centre James Simpson-Daniel, flanker Akapusi Qera, wing Lesley Vainikolo and scrum-half Rory Lawson also touched down for Gloucester – but it could have been more, such was their dominance.
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 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 Six 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.
Tries: Simpson-Daniel, Qera, Lamb 2, Vainikolo, Lawson
Cons: Lamb 3
Tries: Powell, Skirving
Yellow card: Ryder (63, Saracens, killing the ball)
Gloucester: 15 Willie Walker 14 Iain Balshaw, 13 James Simpson-Daniel, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami (c), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Andy Titterrell, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Olivier Azam, 17 Jack Forster, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 Will James, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Chris Paterson, 22 Jack Adams.
Saracens: 15 Dan Scarbrough, 14 Richard Haughton, 13 Kevin Sorrell, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Kameli Ratuvou, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock (c), 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Don Barrell, 6 Kris Chesney, 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Hugh Vyvyan, 3 Cobus Visagie, 2 Matt Cairns, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Cencus Johnston, 18 Iain Fullarton, 19 David Seymour, 20 Moses Rauluni, 21 Gordon Ross, 22 Rodd Penney.
Referee: Rob Debney
Touch-judges: Andrew Pearce, Don Helme
Assessor: Clive Leeke
Television match official: Matt Peters, Graham Hughes