Gloucester Rugby: Saracens horror show at Allianz Park
FREDDIE Burns cannot remember how he was knocked out cold in this horror show at Allianz Park.
The Gloucester fly-half would gladly thank the lucky cartoon stars revolving around his head if colliding with Owen Farrell’s knee wiped his memory of this wretched defeat.
Prop Nick Wood’s mind will be in a spin for days to come after his second-minute red card for stamping on Jacques Burger’s head.
Game over inside 120 seconds, Gloucester battled manfully afterwards, even leading 12-10 at the break.
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But regimented and organised Saracens were always going to find ways to see off 14 men.
And so it proved, with David Strettle claiming two tries and Schalk Brits, Billy Vunipola and Joel Tomkins adding further scores.
While Wood is no nasty or dirty player, the chief concern with his red card is this: he stamped directly on the Saracens flanker’s head.
His obligatory ban will be lengthy and deserved.
He apologised to Burger on the field, and to his team-mates at full-time in the Allianz Park dressing room.
Still, there is no escaping the harsh reality that there is no place for such actions on a rugby field.
A dim view is the polite way of terming the authorities’ approach from here on in.
Brad Barritt’s foot injury probably had Gloucester hoping his absence could bring about a repeat of their 28-23 Kingsholm victory at the back-end of last season.
Saracens’ defensive fulcrum was missing that day, and Gloucester ran amok.
Despite fair levels of grit though, this game became a mere matter of time once Wood had been dismissed.
Time until Saracens turned the screw – and time until they secured the four-try bonus.
Saracens claimed their fourth try with just two minutes to play, to condemn Gloucester to a dark day in the club’s history.
Victory over Northampton Saints at Kingsholm on Saturday is now all-but mandatory for the Cherry and Whites.
Must-win matches arriving only three games into the new season do not spell good tidings.
Burns’ accurate goal-kicking handed Gloucester that 12-10 lead at the break.
Former rugby league man Tomkins ghosted home through the midfield for Saracens’ only try of the half, with Farrell landing a penalty and a conversion.
After the break Saracens’ rolling maul drove Gloucester to distraction.
Even a man light, the Cherry and Whites were still bested in concerning fashion in this department.
The rolling maul has caused Gloucester consternation right across pre-season and in the two Premiership clashes thus far.
Solutions need to be found, and fast.
Strettle finished in the left corner when Saracens switched play after one such tight drive muscle-flex.
Farrell’s two penalties and conversion edged Saracens into command of the match.
And when Sione Kalamafoni was sin-binned for collapsing Saracens’ finest driving maul of the match, any lingering Gloucester hope was washed away in the pouring rain.
Saracens punted their umpteenth penalty to the corner, duly formed the driving maul from the lineout – and replacement hooker Brits drove over and then popped back up to celebrate.
If Gloucester had struggled to defend the drive with 14, then 13 was an entirely different numbers battle.
Billy Vunipola then drove over from a sequence of five successive five-metre scrums on the Gloucester line.
‘Take the scrum, take the scrum’ chanted the crowd: captain Steve Borthwick listened, and big bruiser Billy delivered.
And when Strettle fly-hacked a loose ball clear to slide in, scoop up and finish, Gloucester’s ignominy was complete.
All that was left was for a tearful Wood to apologise to his peers in the away changing room.
Wood will be most incensed because he felt he had a point to prove after a difficult day at the scrum against Sale in the 22-16 defeat on the season’s opening weekend.
No doubt he will have been fired up to hit back in style.
Undoubtedly he crossed a line that every player, at every level, fully understands is there.
Nigel Davies said Gloucester can really fathom little from this clash, because once down to 14 there was only one outcome.
Fair point: but it is not hard to predict what Northampton will bring to Kingsholm, and what Gloucester will need to combat it.
Tight-five power and backline solidity will both be crucial against the Saints.
And last season’s beaten Premiership finalists have started the new campaign in menacingly fine form.
Jim Mallinder’s men know they must pull off victories at places like Kingsholm to keep themselves in that expected play-off contention.
Right now, the play-offs are the last thing on Gloucester’s mind.
Rob Cook 6
Charlie Sharples 6
Henry Trinder 7
Billy Twelvetrees 6
James Simpson-Daniel 7
Freddie Burns 7
Tavis Knoyle 6
Nick Wood 1
Darren Dawidiuk 5
Rupert Harden 5
Tom Savage (capt)6
Lua Lokotui 5
Matt Kvesic 7
Akapusi Qera 6
@Koree Britton (for Dawidiuk, 60) 6; Dan Murphy (for Qera, 2) 5; Yann Thomas (for Harden, 54) 5; Elliott Stooke (for Lokotui, 54); Ben Morgan (for Kalamafoni, 67) 5; Jimmy Cowan (for Knoyle, 60) 6; Mike Tindall (for Trinder, 65) 6; Martyn Thomas (for Cook, 60) 6
@Pens: Burns 4 (12, 28, 38, 39)
@Red cards: Wood (2).
@Yellow cards: Kalamafoni (57).
@Referee: Wayne Barnes