Sarries seal home semi-final
April 24, 2011
Sarries seal home semi-final%]
Saracens eased to a 35-12 victory over Gloucester at Vicarage Road on Sunday to ensure that they will play their Aviva Premiership semi-final on home soil.
With Leicester set for a knockout tie at Welford Road after Friday's victory over Newcastle, Sarries completed their task with relative ease, bagging four tries and with it a bonus-point.
Hooker Schalk Brits, No.8 Ernst Joubert, loose-head Matt Stevens and winger David Strettle breached the Gloucester defence, fullback Alex Goode kicking 15 points as part of a Man of the Match display.
Gloucester missed a number of key names due to injury and looked fatigued after a testing run of three games in eight days, although they did craft excellent tries to returning winger James Simpson-Daniel and centre Henry Trinder.
Given their current league position, they sit third and a point clear of Northampton, a return to Watford is on the cards in the semis and they will hope for a far more spirited showing should that be the case.
Two excellent kicks by Owen Farrell put Gloucester, and particularly fullback for the day Tom Voyce, under pressure early on, but Goode hooked a third-minute penalty wide of the target to let the visitors off.
Sarries dominated possession in the opening stages but could not find the variety to trouble the Gloucester defence, something they remedied in style after 20 minutes for the opening try. A Freddie Burns penalty struck the uprights and allowed Goode to combine with Strettle in his 22, with a sweeping pass from Farrell getting his backline going forward.
James Short then put the hammer down along his wing, flying past Charlie Sharples and handing off two would-be tacklers before popping the ball inside for Brits to score. Goode converted for a 7-0 lead.
Short's blistering pace again troubled Gloucester in the build-up to their second try, the winger chasing down Dave Lewis and forcing the scrum-half into touch five metres out. The hosts worked a brilliant drive from the ensuing lineout, Joubert trading the ball with Kelly Brown before taking control as the Cherry and Whites were smashed across their line.
Gloucester found their feet and used their own back-three to find a response minutes later, with an arching run from Sharples sending Voyce hurtling into space. The former England international fixed Goode and fed the ball out for Simpson-Daniel to score in the corner. As Goode had done moments earlier, Burns missed the extras.
Simpson-Daniel again found space to set hearts racing but after the winger had knocked on in the tackle Sarries again countered from deep, Strettle being held up inches short of the try-line after another sweeping move. Denied a try, Sarries nevertheless ended the half with another score as Goode slotted a penalty from in front of the posts.
Saracens hooker Schalk Brits bursts through to score the opening try © Getty Images
Burns was forced from the field at the break with a shoulder injury, to be replaced by England Under-20 international Ryan Mills, while Sarries made changes at scrum-half, Richard Wigglesworth for Neil De Kock, and in the back-row, where Andy Saull replaced Kelly Brown.
Saracens took only three minutes of the second period to bag their third try, and Wigglesworth was the architect. Mouritz Botha smashed his way forward and from the ruck the replacement scrum-half stole a yard of space, his offload from the back of the hand finding Stevens on a well-timed surge for the line. Goode converted and added a brace of penalties as the game moved towards the hour mark, angering sections of the home faithful eager to see more fireworks.
The next opening was made by Gloucester as Rory Lawson set Sharples free, but the winger's charge was halted by an untimely slip. Trinder ensured that the visiting fans did have something to cheer by punishing some loose play by Sarries, with Brett Deacon pouncing on a loose ball and feeding Voyce with a sweet offload. One pass out sent Trinder clear and the centre put his foot down to score in the corner, Mills adding an excellent conversion to make it 28-12 after 65 minutes.
Gloucester replacement Luke Narraway saw yellow for cynically sealing off a ruck as Sarries peppered the line but the hosts could not find immediate reward from the scrum, with Joubert also knocking on a clever grubber from Farrell that had opened a yard of space. The bonus-point try did arrive before the end however, Strettle cutting back through some tired defence after another clockwork lineout from the forwards.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor