James Hook landed a last-minute 50m penalty to hand Gloucester a 24-23 victory over Saracens in a drama-filled Premiership match at Kingsholm on Friday.
It wasn’t all good news for Gloucester though as two serious injuries – to England number eight Ben Morgan and prop Nick Wood – tempered the celebrations somewhat.
Saracens outscored their hosts three tries to two as they put their rolling maul to good use. It could easily have been four tries but Chris Ashton had a try disallowed in the 79th minute for being offside in the build-up, and it was from the ensuing penalty that Hook slotted the winning kick.
In a game where four yellow cards were evenly shared, Saracens were handed a penalty try just six minutes in following a maul, before a wonderful solo effort from Dan Robson lit up the ground, as he scored one of the tries of the season.
The second half saw Billy Vunipola get the third try of the night, before Callum Braley rounded off a superb try as the hosts ran the full length of the pitch to go over.
Mako Vunipola joined his brother on the scoresheets with a try that looked like it would seal victory, but Hook snatched victory with the last kick of the game.
The visitors were handed a penalty try early on. Gloucester were penalised previously for dragging down the maul, and referee JP Doyle’s patience wore thin as he gave Saracens the early lead. Alex Goode’s conversion gave his side an early seven point lead.
Billy Twelvetrees was held up well after getting in front of a Ben Ransom kick, before two penalties in three minutes from Hook reduced the deficit to just one point.
But two further kicks from Goode gave further breathing space to Mark McCall’s men. Hook was the first kicker to miss after he fired a penalty off the post, as Gloucester pushed in search of getting themselves back in the game before the break.
They almost did so thanks to Robson, but his burst down the line was brought to a crunching end by Richard Wigglesworth, who forced him into touch, just minutes after Gloucester were held up five metres out.
But the try did arrive five minutes before Doyle’s whistle, and it was Robson who was this time able to evade challenges and get a hand on the ball in-goal. It came after he got on the end of his own chip forward for a wonderful solo effort, though Hook did again fire his effort wide as he failed to level the scores.
Two minutes before the break Saracens were reduced to 14 men following a yellow card being issued to David Strettle after a deliberate knock on breaking down Gloucester’s attack. Hook had another effort to put his side in front, but his strike caught the wind and ensured that the Kingsholm crowd would be looking for a turnaround by their side, going into the final 40.
Tom Savage was booked just minutes after the teams re-emerged to ensure the teams were back to 14 all, and from the next attack, Saracens grabbed their second try of the night.
Both came early in their respective halves, and this one came via Vunipola. He was at the heart of the Saracens maul as they marched over, but Goode’s conversion from wide failed to add the extras, leaving Gloucester still within a converted try of drawing level.
They couldn’t have come much closer from their next attack, but following neat interplay between Mark Atkinson and Jonny May, Hook was denied as he bore down on the try line.
The game was then held up for five minutes after what looked like a worrying injury for Morgan, as the England man was stretchered off to a standing ovation from the 12’894 in attendance.
The home fans were being treated to quite a finale as their side pushed to take something from the tie, coming close on a number of occasions only to be met by a resolute backline.
Hook added three points to reduce the deficit to four points, before they snatched the lead for the first time. Braley was the man who got their second try, after some incredible work from his teammates.
May and Gareth Evans beat an army of Saracens, before finding Braley who went over with twenty minutes to play, Hook adding the extras.
George Kruis became the second player cautioned for the visiting side after a dangerous challenge on Halaifonua, as he left his side with another hurdle to overcome.
The game was again marred by another injury to Wood, who was also forced to leave on a stretcher, in a worrying night for all connected with Gloucester.
May found himself to be the fourth man forced into the sin bin after a foul in the maul, as he left his side with the final ten minutes to play a man short.
And Saracens made the extra man count with their next opportunity. It was the third maul in quick succession, and Mako Vunipola went over to ensure both brothers had scores to their name.
The home side were unhappy as time wore on, feeling hard done by following a number of fouls against, and they were so close to seizing the win, only for a drop goal attempt from Hook to cannon back off the post.
The visitors then went up the other end and went over, only for it to be disallowed, as the referee pulled play back to a Gloucester penalty, with Hook given the opportunity to kick his side to a last gasp win.
And he made no mistake, as he fired through to send Kingsholm delirious, as they secured the tightest of victories.
Tries: Robson, Braley
Pens: Hook 4
Yellow cards: Savage, May
Tries: Penalty try, B. Vunipola, M. Vunipola
Pens: Goode 2
Yellow cards: Strettle, Kruis
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Mark Atkinson, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements:16 Richard Hibbard 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Tom Hicks, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Bill Meakes.
Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 David Strettle, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Ernst Joubert, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Tim Streather.