Premiership: Five takeaways from Gloucester v Saracens as league leaders win ugly thanks to Owen Farrell’s late drop goal
Following a 19-16 victory for Saracens over Gloucester in their Premiership fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match at Kingsholm on Friday.
The top line
This was a thundering encounter and one where either side could have taken the honours, but the greater composure of Saracens, together with their superior accuracy around the breakdown and in contact, were just enough to see the visitors home.
We saw a thrilling last 10 minutes as an Owen Farrell drop goal in the last second of the match cruelly robbed Gloucester of a share of the points despite a massive defensive effort from the Cherry and Whites.
It was an epic encounter, one that could have gone either way, but there’s a reason why Saracens are a champion team – they know how to win ugly and how to close out tight matches and in the final analysis, that experience was enough to snare them the win.
Making your own luck
Every marginal call went Saracens’ way, mostly due to great game management, with Gloucester throwing away opportunity after opportunity with a combination of naivety, poor execution and downright stupidity in crucial moments.
It seems churlish to criticise, but when a TMO has replays galore at their fingertips, to miss the clear offside from Farrell’s up and under with a Saracen at least a metre in front when he struck the ball that led to Ivan van Zyl’s crucial try and then not to review the clear high shot on Jack Clement by Farrell in the dying moments seemed to be crucial oversights by the officials.
But aside from that, Gloucester had so many opportunities to win this match but fell short through coach killing blunders – lineouts lost in five-metre attacking positions, penalties haemorrhaged in crucial positions and a lack of ability to finish off the many good moves created, particularly by the outstanding Ollie Thorley on the wing.
With Kevin Sinfield and Steve Borthwick present in the stands, the number of micro battles on the pitch related to international selection were legion; Val Rapava-Ruskin v Mako Vunipola, Lewis Ludlow v Ben Earl, Thorley v Max Malins, Jamie George v George McGuigan and even Ruan Ackermann v Billy Vunipola. The delicious irony of this match is in the head to heads, virtually everyone was taken by the home side, but the simple truth is, Saracens performed better as a team, which is exactly what characterises their success.
The standouts were Player of the Match Thorley – brilliant in attack and making one tremendous cover back tackle. Rapava-Ruskin wreaked havoc as his wrecking ball figure smashed everything in front of him until he limped off after a week in which he got married, went to England training camps and propped in the Premiership game all in the space of six days.
For the visitors, Farrell may not be at his sharpest, but with Malins and Alex Goode sure at the back, he carved out enough points to get over the line. Borthwick will also be pleased with the carrying power and length of shift delivered by Billy Vunipola, who was a rock of reliability throughout the match.
The words of the day in Gloucester’s review session will be coach killers.
From the sliced touch kick in the last minute to the four lineouts lost on the line, the home team’s blunders were entirely of their own making. Simple training ground moves like drop outs flew directly into touch; lineout throws were pinged for dummy throws and players lay the wrong side of rucks when clear jackal opportunities where available.
George Skivington will be delighted by Gloucester’s physicality, their commitment and their pace of play, but if self enforced errors were an art form, this match would be hung on the walls of the Louvre itself.
Mark McCall, on the other hand, will be purring about his side’s resilience, their ability to stay in the game by pushing the line of the law to its nth degree and by their technical excellence in the lineout.
Maro Itoje and his cohorts saved Saracens time and time again as they picked off Freddie Clark and Matias Alemanno, leaving Gloucester with only a front throw option to the outstanding Ludlow and but for that area of set-piece dominance, the scoreline might well have been different.
But he’ll be worried about the roasting Mako Vunipola and Marco Riccioni got in the first half, with Vunipola once again eviscerated in the tight and the usually outstanding Italian tighthead given a torrid time by Rapava-Ruskin.
Finishing will be an issue to but these are small things, the type of stuff than can be fixed when the over-riding emotion is one of pride in an away win well won.
READ MORE: Premiership: Owen Farrell escapes red card before slotting match-winning drop-goal for Saracens against Gloucester