Gloucester march on Twickenham

05th May 2007, 17:31

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London Calling: Willie Walker takes on Saracens

London Calling: Willie Walker takes on Saracens

No English side has left Gloucester with a win this season, and that record will stand until September - at least. The Cherry and Whites clinched a spot in the 2006/07 Guinness Premiership courtesy of an emphatic seven-try 50-9 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm on Saturday.


No English side has left Gloucester with a win this season, and that record will stand until September - at least. The Cherry and Whites clinched a spot in the 2006/07 Guinness Premiership courtesy of an emphatic seven-try 50-9 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm on Saturday.

Facing up to the Shed is a daunting prospect at the best of times, but Saracens knew they were in for a very uncomfortable afternoon as soon as they were shepherded towards an al fresco changing area.

The make-shifts arrangements were blamed on the stadium's redevelopment, but could there have been a touch of gamesmanship involved? If so, it worked wonders: Saracens spent the rest of the afternoon where they had been left - out in the cold.

Having finished top after the 22-game regular league season, Gloucester underlined their championship credentials through touchdowns from Peter Richards, Luke Narraway, Anthony Allen, Andy Hazell, Mark Foster and Christian Califano.

The home side also claimed a penalty try, while full-back Willie Walker kicked 15 points.

Saracens, buoyant following their highest league finish since 2000, were outclassed, and three Glen Jackson penalties provided scant crumbs of comfort.

The West Country giants duly cruise into next Saturday's Twickenham final against Leicester or Bristol where they will attempt to exorcise a few demons.

The Cherry and Whites last reached the Premiership Final in 2003, but after topping the league by 15 points, they slumped 39-3 to Wasps as the Londoners claimed the first in a hat-trick of title successes under Warren Gatland.

But Gloucester seem to be the real deal these days, and it will take a huge effort from their Twickenham opponents to prevent silverware from going to Kingsholm.

They went into battle without injured back-row forwards Jake Boer and James Forrester, so Narraway packed down at number eight alongside South Africa-bound England flankers Hazell and Peter Buxton.

Saracens, who had secured a play-off place for the first time, made three changes up front as prop Nick Lloyd, hooker Shane Byrne and flanker Paul Gustard all started following a 22-7 defeat against Worcester last Saturday which meant the Warriors stayed up.

Hazell, Gloucester skipper Marco Bortolami and Saracens wing Dan Scarbrough all suffered knocks during the opening exchanges, but the visitors only had themselves to blame for conceding an opening 11th-minute score.

Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb's clever kick caused panic in the Saracens defence, and as wing Foster sniffed a try, he was tackled without the ball by Thomas Castaignede.

Referee Wayne Barnes sensibly consulted video official Geoff Warren, resulting in a penalty try that Walker improved, although Castaignede was fortunate to escape the additional punishment of a yellow card.

Jackson, recently acclaimed players' player of the year by his fellow Premiership professionals, opened Saracens' account through an 18th-minute penalty, but balance of play remained with Gloucester.

Lamb's mixed and matched his kicking game superbly, and a steepling ball deep into Gloucester's 22 almost created a second try.

Wing Iain Balshaw climbed to catch the ball, but he was cynically taken out in mid-air by opposite number Kameli Ratuvou, who escaped with a yellow card, while Gloucester were also denied a possible second penalty try.

Balshaw continued after receiving treatment, and the home side laid siege as half-time approached.

Saracens, a man down, struggled to defend a five-metre scrum, and Gloucester exploited their advantage when Narraway fed Richards, who skipped inside number eight Ben Skirving - in a defensive wing position instead of the absent Ratuvou - for a simple try.

Walker slotted the extras, putting Gloucester within sight of Twickenham as they led 14-3 at half-time.

And there was more gloom ahead for Saracens with Ratuvou still off, as the home side conjured their third try on 46 minutes.

Quickly recycled possession proved sufficient to pin Saracens' defence on the back foot, and Hazell delivered a scoring pass to Narraway, who galloped over unopposed before Walker's conversion took Gloucester 15 points clear.

Saracens were hanging on, but they self-destructed when scrum-half Neil de Kock rifled out an ambitious pass inside his own 22 from the restart after Jackson completed his penalty hat-trick.

None of his Saracens team-mates could react quickly enough, and after the ball bounced off lock Iain Fullarton's shoulder, Allen gathered a simple rebound to score.

Lamb scythed through Saracens' defence and sent Foster in for try number five, before Walker continued his immaculate goalkicking performance by landing a fifth conversion, taking Gloucester 38-9 ahead.

Then Hazell pounced on a loose ball and sprinted clear to claim try number six, again converted by Walker.

Gloucester had scored 31 points in 19 minutes, blitzing Saracens beyond recognition, and there was still time for substitute prop Califano to add a seventh touchdown.

Man of the match: Ben Skirving and Glen Jackson worked hard for the visitors, but this was not a vintage performance from Saracens. Andy Hazell did well for the locals, snuffing out the danger presented by Jackson and adding his weight to every attack. But our award goes to Ryan Lamb whose keen rugby brain caused Gloucester's effervescent backline to froth over.

Moment of the match: Despite never having held the lead, Saracens still looked capable of turning the tables until Antony Allen's try. That score seems to sum up the afternoon: Saracens making a pig's ear out of the simplest situation, and Gloucester making reams of silk out of their guests' mistakes.

Villain of the match: Thomas Castaignède escaped a ticking-off for bringing Mark Foster down without the ball, but the incident gifted Gloucester that penalty try, so we'll assume the France star felt admonished by proxy. Later in the game, Kameli Ratuvou plucked Iain Balshaw out of the sky. Had Balshaw flapped his wings in the manner of his side's try-scorers, Ratuvou might have got away with it. But he didn't, and the Fijian was off to the sin-bin as soon as the Englishman had hit the floor. Cynical stuff.

The scorers:

For Gloucester:
Tries: Penalty Try, Richards, Narraway, Allen, Foster, Hazell, Califano
Cons: Walker 6
Pen: Walker

For The Dragons:
Pens: Jackson 3

Yellow card(s): Ratuvou (Saracens) - dangerous tackle, 34

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Mark Foster, 13 James Simpson-Daniel, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Iain Balshaw, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Peter Richards, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Andy Hazell, 6 Peter Buxton, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami (capt), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Christian Califano, 18 Will James, 19 Adam Eustace, 20