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By Behind the Bench
February 18 2017

No crisis at Saracens, but no losing bonus point either, as an inconsistent Gloucester side added the scalp of Sarries to their earlier win against Wasps. The visitors made too many errors and failed to build on their bright start, as their hosts demonstrated a clinical edge and intensity more often associated with their opponents

Gloucester made five adjustments from the starting XV defeated 34-9 at Leicester Tigers, as Matt Scott returned from Scotland international duty to replace Andy Symons at centre, whilst David Halaifonua came in for Henry Purdey on the left wing, and Salesi Ma'afu started at tighthead in place of the injured John Afoa. Two formidable additions to the back row saw Welsh international Ross Moriarty and Ben Morgan in for Lewis Ludlow and Sione Kalamafoni. There were a quartet of changes for the visitors from the Worcester disappointment, as Sean Maitland came in at full back for Matt Gallagher (the original full back was expected to be Duncan Taylor but this was changed late on), and Marcelo Bosch returned to centre in place of Nick Tompkins, whilst in the pack, Mako Vunipola made an eagerly awaited return in place of Richard Barrington, whilst Juan Figallo started in place of Petrus du Plessis at tighthead. 
In the Kingsholm night, early exchange of kicks, gave way to a series of phases for the visitors only for Jim Hamilton to knock on in the third minute, and the home side had the first chance of points when Marcelo Bosch was penalised for obstruction at a high ball, 40 metres out, giving Gloucester a sixth minute lead through Billy Burns. However, when Richard Hibbard failed to release, Saracens were into the home 22 and patiently went through the phases as they put together a neat exchange of passes as the ball was worked out to Mike Ellery on the left wing before the ball was passed by Jackson Wray for Schalk Brits to race through just to the right of the posts, with a straightforward conversion for Alex Lozowski and a 7-3 lead with eleven minutes played. Two minutes later, Schalk Burger forced a penalty as Gloucester held on, and Lozowski provided three more points. 
However, a Burger knock on provided the home side with much-needed field position, and a fine mixture of crashing drives and assured handling by Heinz set up full back Tom Marshall for a try converted by Burns and a 10-10 scoreline. Saracens proved they could be equally inventive as Schalk Brits' kick through forced Halaifonua to concede the five metre scrum, and from the resultant pressure, Gloucester strayed offside and Lozowski restored the away advantage, but the home side had a golden opportunity to retake the lead when they won a scrum penalty from the Saracens' put in, but Heinz's kick through rebounded off Maitland and set up Halaifonua but strong defending meant the winger couldn't ground the ball. Play was pulled back for an earlier advantage, but a wayward lineout meant the visitors escaped, as the Cherry and Whites began to enjoy a distinct majority of possession and territory. 
Gloucester did however draw level on the 34th minute, and when Lozowski's kick set Ellery and Bosch away, Saracens looked on course for the perfect response but were penalised for blocking.  Slick handling by Charlie Sharples set Halaifonua along the left wing, although Maitland won a vital turnover as the line loomed, but a tackle by Brad Barritt on Josh Hohneck was adjudged as dangerous and gave Gloucester the chance to have the last word of the half, 40 metres from goal for a 16-13 lead. Whilst the visitors scored an excellent try, the story of the half was some attentive defending in the face of mounting pressure by the hosts and some incisive play from the likes of Marshall and Heinz. 
Half time brought the introduction of Kelly Brown in place of Burger through injury. A collapsed maul gave Saracens relief from early pressure in the third minute in the second half, providing a line out 40 metres out and a good dummy by Maitland but Lozowski through on a half break, but attempts to pin Gloucester in their own 22 were thwarted by Barritt conceding the penalty for not rolling away. A series of knock ons by both sides saw an opportunistic finish as a fractured piece of play began with an ill-judged Bosch clearance kick, and after Sarries failed to clear again, Jeremy Thrush snapped onto the loose ball, when Fraser couldn't collect, to finish beneath the posts for another converted score on the 50 minute mark. There was another blow as Maitland departed due to injury and handling errors continued in the visitors play. Fortunately, three minutes later, the home side were caught offside twice in quick succession providing an opportunity for the visitors to halt the growing momentum, Lozowski sensibly opting for points on the board to narrow the gap to 23-16 with 25 minutes still remaining. 
When Gloucester were penalised for holding on again, Saracens were on a welcome excursion to the home 22 and forced another advantage from the rolling maul, with play spread into space on the right through Bosch and then Brits as the pressure ensued but play was brought back for the penalty as Gallagher narrowly failed to wriggle over in the right corner on the 58 minute mark. After Burns was injured when tackling the substitute full back, his evening was ended after a lengthy stoppage for treatment to a possible neck injury. On resumption, Sarries opted for the five metre line out and rollling maul with Paul Doran-Jones yellow carded for collapsing it. Take two and the rolling maul culminated in a pushover try for Will Fraser. 23-23, but ten minutes of uncontested scrums as the cautioned prop was an early replacement for Ma'afu. 
The game had decisively switched in Saracens' favour as they looked to make the most of the man advantage, but, seconds away from the Cherry and Whites being back to a full complement, Lozowski was well off target with a drop goal attempt. Gloucester appeared to get a second wave as two quick penalties gave them a chance to retake the lead from 30 metres out through Billy Twelvetrees rather than James Hook. From the kick off, Morgan made a stirring break through the middle and the ball was worked at pace to Halaifonua on the left wing but the ball was scrambled away at the expense of a close range lineout to set up the driving maul for Hibbard to dive over and finish. However, from a similar position to the penalty a few minutes earlier, Twelvetrees was wide of the left hand post. A quick raid forward by Saracens was halted by a Bosch knock on, but one late chance emerged with 90 seconds left as a high tackle penalty took them into the home 22 and the customary rolling maul although the home side held their shape and forced possession to close the game. 
Gloucester Rugby (31)
15 Tom Marshall; 14 Charlie Sharples (22 James Hook 33 to 38 HIA), 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 David Halaifonua; 10 Billy Burns (22 James Hook 59), 9 Willi Heinz (capt); 1 Josh Hohneck (17 Yann Thomas 64), 2 Richard Hibbard (16 Motu Matu'u 64 / 2 Richard Hibbard 66 HIA), 3 Salesi Ma'afu (18 Paul Doran-Jones 3); 4 Tom Savage, 5 Jeremy Thrush (19 Mariano Galarza 63); 6 Ross Moriarty (20 Lewis Ludlow 71), 7 Jacob Rowan, 8 Ben Morgan.
Replacements: 21 Callum Braley, 23 Henry Trinder.
Saracens (23)
15 Sean Maitland (23 Matt Gallagher 50); 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (capt), 11 Mike Ellery; 10 Alex Lozowski (22 Max Malins 78), 9 Richard Wigglesworth (21 Ben Spencer 71); 1 Mako Vunipola (17 Richard Barrington 70), 2 Schalk Brits (16 Jared Saunders 78), 3 Juan Figallo (18 Petrus du Plessis 70), 4 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton (19 Mark Flanagan 78), 6 Will Fraser, 7 Schalk Burger (20 Kelly Brown HT), 8 Jackson Wray.
HT 16-13
Referee: Wayne Barnes

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18/02/2017 08:17
Thanks Gerard.
Only 2 more premiership games to survive before cavalry return!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:03:02:17:19:24 by Darraghgirl.

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