Planet Rugby

Run continues for Saracens

27th September 2009 16:54

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Brad Barritt met by Peter Buxton

Armwrestle: Sarries edge it

Saracens moved to the top of the Guinness Premiership table after edging past Gloucester 19-16 in an underwhelming match on Sunday.

The Watford-based side had to defy the early loss of captain Steve Borthwick to preserve the only unbeaten record in the 2009/10 competition.

Replacement hooker Schalk Brits scored the decisive try and fly-half Glen Jackson chipped in with fourteen points as Saracens condemned Gloucester to their third consecutive defeat.

The Cherry and Whites had taken a second-minute lead through Rory Lawson's opportunist try and maintained that advantage until Brits barged over in the 67th minute.

Nicky Robinson landed three penalties and a conversion but he missed with an injury-time drop-goal that would have earned a draw.

Borthwick was forced off after just thirteen minutes with a nasty cut to his left eye after an apparent clash with the Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam.

Judging by the pointed words Borthwick fired towards the Gloucester players as he departed, the citing officer may well have something to look at over the next 72 hours.

Saracens were officially returning home for the first time this season after successive victories at Twickenham and Wembley in front of an extraordinary combined attendance of 110,000 fans.

The Wembley experiment against Northampton was a loss-leader designed to boost their attendances at Vicarage Road from an average of 7,000, which is economically unsustainable for the club.

Saracens' uninspiring brand of rugby may be winning matches but it is not winning them many new friends - only 7,777 turned up and some of them were booing in frustration before Brits plundered over to secure the win.

Saracens were up against it right from the off against a Gloucester side who arrived in the back of two heavy defeats but made a lively start.

Lawson put them ahead inside two minutes after Alasdair Strokosch stole the Saracens lineout ten metres out and the Scottish scrum-half darted through the gap to score.

But Saracens stuck by the boot and it once again proved effective as Gloucester failed to deal with successive high balls and on both occasions conceded penalties. Jackson stroked both kicks over.

After Borthwick departed, Gloucester showed flashes of attacking ambition but Saracens' game is built on a solid defence and they scrambled well to haul down Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu after the centre had sliced through the line.

Referee Martin Fox was playing advantage at the time and he took play back for Gloucester's first penalty of the match, which Robinson successfully converted.

Jackson and Robinson exchanged further penalties as the game descended into another drab affair of few openings and plenty of mindless, aimless kicking.

Gloucester have had discipline problem this season and after receiving a team warning for persistent infringements, Lawson became their fifth player to be sin-binned so far this term.

Jackson missed the penalty but opened the second period with a drop-goal. But, once again, Robinson replied with a penalty almost immediately.

A bulldozing run from Lesley Vainikolo drew in a clutch of Saracens defenders and his over-the-top pass sent Robinson clear into space out wide.

Robinson arrowed for the corner but Alex Goode, Saracens' England U20 international, tracked the Gloucester fly-half all the way and buried him into touch just short of the line.

Strokosch claimed the lineout ball again but this time Gloucester could not convert their opportunity, Saracens snatched a turnover and cleared their lines.

On the rare occasions when Saracens built through the phases they succeeded in putting Gloucester under pressure and it required a shuddering tackle from Lawson to stop Brad Barritt's charge.

Saracens reverted back to kicking everything and their approach began to draw jeers, whistles and slow handclaps from their own supporters during a particularly tedious bout of kick-tennis.

But Justin Marshall's introduction changed the tempo and, after Saracens kicked a penalty into the corner, the former All Black orchestrated a series of close-range attacks before Brits drove over the line.

Gloucester engineered one last change to snatch the draw but Robinson could not land the drop goal and the Cherry and Whites had to settle for a losing bonus point.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Brits
Con: Jackson
Pen: Jackson 3
Drop: Jackson

For Gloucester:
Tries: Lawson
Con: Robinson
Pen: Robinson 3

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Andy Saull, 6 Wikus van Heerden, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Richard Skuse, 19 Hugh Vyvyan, 20 Michael Owen, 21 Justin Marshall, 22 Derick Hougaard, 23 Richard Haughton.

Gloucester: 15 Tom Voyce, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Mike Tindall (capt), 12 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Adam Eustace, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Peter Buxton, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Shaun Knight, 18 Pierre Capdevielle, 19 Apo Satala, 20 Andrew Hazell, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Charlie Sharples.

Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant referees: Ken Stewart, Roger Baileff
Television match official: John Burtenshaw
Assessor: Gary Welsh

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