Saracens outmuscle Gloucester for final berth
May 15, 2011
Sarries outmuscle Gloucester for final berth%]
Saracens set up a repeat of last season's Aviva Premiership Final against Leicester with a 12-10 victory over Gloucester in their semi-final clash at Vicarage Road.
Four penalties from the boot of Sarries fly-half Owen Farrell proved enough to see off a determined Gloucester side who threatened a major upset with a second half try from No.10 Nicky Robinson putting them on course for victory. But the hosts were not to be denied in an error-strewn contest and as a result they will go head-to-head with the Tigers once again at Twickenham on May 28.
The game did not begin well for the Cherry and Whites with Robinson sending the kick off straight into touch and there was more woe at the resulting scrum. But Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth was unable to capitalise with his long range penalty drifting wide in a precursor for a game blighted by errors from both sides.
There was plenty of adventure on show in the opening exchanges but it was Saracens who made the most telling incision. A great angle from fullback Alex Goode sparked the break with winger James Short the beneficiary and his speed carried him away from the Gloucester defence and towards the corner. But he was denied by a desperate tackle from scrum-half Rory Lawson who forced his rival into touch. Play came back for an infringement off the ball but Goode's penalty attempt hardly got off the ground.
Gloucester's attempts to disrupt the Saracens lineout led to the next penalty and the home side's third different kicker in Farrell - but it was a similar result with Farrell's effort at least hitting the woodwork. The visitors then took heart from a minor victory at the scrum to build a significant head of steam with winger James Simpson-Daniel dancing up to the 22 where Saracens blindside Kelly Brown was penalised for offside. But Gloucester were not immune to kicking troubles with Robinson pulling his kick wide of the target. Gloucester flanker Alasdair Strokosch was the next to be penalised for offside and Farrell finally broke the deadlock from the kicking tee.
The quick feet of Saracens hooker Schalk Brits threatened to open up the Gloucester defence midway through the half only for a tap tackle from lock Jim Hamilton to bring him down. But Saracens maintained that momentum with another penalty gifting Farrell the chance to extend his side's lead. Handling errors continued to rob Gloucester of the little momentum they could muster and pressure at scrum time drew the latest penalty but Farrell's form deserted him once again.
The whistle of referee Andrew Small was soon ringing in Gloucester's ears once again with Hamilton the guilty party and Saracens piled forward only for defensive pressure from centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu to rob them of the ball. And Saracens' protests saw a penalty go against them and allowed Gloucester to clear the danger. A great line break from Gloucester centre Tim Molenaar then carried him past several Saracens defenders and up to the 22, but the visitors were guilty of wasting the opportunity with a wild pass arrowed into touch.
Saracens' Brad Barritt looks for support during the Vicarage Road clash © Getty Images
A harsh-looking obstruction call against Gloucester skipper Luke Narraway drew a final warning about his side's indiscipline as the half drew to a close but Farrell's propensity to hit the woodwork served as a let off. Saracens responded by raising the tempo in search of a timely score but it was Gloucester who spurned a glorious opening with Robinson ghosting past Saracens lock Steve Borthwick in midfield but his long pass out wide to fullback Charlie Sharples had too much on it. They were back on the front foot in a final flurry before the break and while Saracens' defence kept them at bay, Robinson was at least able to put his side on the board with a penalty.
Saracens wasted little time in stretching their lead after the re-start with Farrell's latest effort taking him past the 100 points barrier for the season after Gloucester were penalised at the re-start. Robinson had the chance to cancel out that effort moments later when Goode was penalised for not releasing the ball but he failed to take the chance.
Gloucester fullback Freddie Burns had the ball over the line shortly after following a rare lapse in Saracens' defence but it was all in vain as play was called back for an earlier knock on. Saracens forward muscle brought them more reward midway through the half when Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera was guilty of coming in from the side but yet another opportunity evaded the hosts with Farrell's kick drifting wide.
Robinson orchestrated the next opening with Narraway and Sharples also involved in a sweeping move that was brought to an abrupt halt by a crunching tackle on Rory Lawson. Saracens then swept back downfield with centre Chris Wyles and replacement Noah Cato making big gains but defence once again had the decisive say.
The game appeared to take a dramatic and controversial turn with Borthwick the recipient of a questionable yellow card. The former England captain was sin-binned for his part in Gloucester lock Alex Brown's crashing fall at a lineout although it looked more like an accident than dangerous play. The injustice appeared to inspire Saracens and a series of phases took them back to the Gloucester 22 where Farrell could only push a drop goal attempt wide.
They were soon knocking on the door again after Gloucester failed to deal with a high ball but flanker Andy Saull, winger David Strettle and replacement prop Rhys Gill all failed to force their way over. Farrell opted for another drop goal attempt but the decision proved costly.
Qera's charge down was pounced upon by his team-mates and the ball was worked wide to Simpson-Daniel whose injection of pace created the opening for Robinson who raced away to score under the posts before adding the conversion that gave his side the lead - but it was not theirs for long. Sharples was penalised for not rolling away as Saracens went looking for an immediate reply and Farrell rediscovered his touch at the right time to edge his side ahead once more with what proved to be the decisive score.
Back to full strength, Saracens looked to close the game out by playing the territorial game but Gloucester refused give up on their season and their forwards looked to earn the field position from where they could win the game. Saracens looked to have drawn their sting only to gift the ball back to Gloucester at a lineout in the dying moments but there was to be no dramatic turnaround.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.