|Gloucester (5) 12|
|Tries Marshall, Ludlow Con Twelvetrees|
|Saracens (16) 21|
|Tries Tompkins, Earl Pens Vunipola 3 Con Vunipola|
Saracens silenced the jeers of the Gloucester fans and the ire of others around the country as they put their 35-point deduction and £5.36m fine for salary cap breaches behind them as they recorded a 21-12 win at Kingsholm.
The European and English champions – without the vast number of their England World Cup-finalists – put on an impressive display to get their first win at Kingsholm since October 2015.
Saracens ran out to a chorus of boos as some Gloucester fans waved fake £50 notes.
Chants of “same old Sarries, always cheating” rang loud around Kingsholm for large parts of the game.
But a clinical performance in attack and defence from Mark McCall’s understrength men saw them smother Gloucester and move second in the Premiership pending the outcome of an appeal of their sentence.
Less famous stars shine bright
Saracens went into the game without England captain Owen Farrell and his World Cup-finalist team-mates Jamie George, Marco Itoje, Elliot Daly, George Kruis and Mako and Billy Vunipola as they restored their body clocks to UK time after the best part of two months in Japan.
They were still able to call on Scotland’s Sean Maitland, former England scrum-half Richard Wrigglesworth and experienced squad players like Will Skelton, Nick Tompkins and Jackson Wray, while new signing Jack Singleton started on the bench as did England’s late World Cup call-up scrum-half Ben Spencer.
It was Wrigglesworth who set the tone in the first half – his accurate kicking and experienced leadership helping a Saracens side who had ranging levels of experience.
Manu Vunipola, the young cousin of England’s Mako and Billy, kicked his side into an 18th-minute lead, before Nick Tompkins’ try increased the gap to 10 points – Danny Cipriani’s sliced clearance kick set up the field position and Vunipola’s superb drop of the shoulder creating the opening for Saracens to send over Tompkins over from close range.
Within five minutes Gloucester had pulled a try back – Marshall sprinting down the right, precisely chipping over the onrushing Saracens defender and kicking he ball on before diving into the corner.
Gloucester indiscipline saw them give away two more penalties that Vunipola dispatched from close range as the visitors went in 16-5 up at the break.
Saracens impress to hold out hosts
The second half was just three minutes old when there was a long stoppage for a nasty-looking leg injury to Saracens loose head Ralph Adams-Hale – the 22-year-old was making his first Premiership start but needed oxygen as he was stretchered off under heavy medical attention.
But Saracens did not need long to increase their lead – having had a rolling maul try disallowed for obstruction, Saracens made no mistake with the very next play as Ben Earl was forced over by the pack.
Gloucester struggled to find a way through Saracens’ constrictive defence – Ollie Thorley’s pacey run after an hour was repelled while Corne Fourie was held up an inch short of the line.
It took 15 minutes of almost solid Gloucester pressure before the visitors finally cracked – Lewis Ludlow being forced over from close range as Gloucester’s fans found their voice and turned their anger on their visitors once again.
But it was Saracens who almost had the last laugh as Ben Spencer knocked on under pressure as he dived for the corner in the final minute.
Saracens may have left the ground to the sounds of “I Fought the Law” by the Clash from the tannoy and accusations of being cheats from the fans, but they showed their strength in depth against a strong Gloucester side – whether that squad has been fairly or unfairly assembled is still up for debate.
Gloucester: Woodward; Marshall, Harris, Atkinson, Thorley; Cipriani, Braley; Hohneck, Marais, Balmain, Clarke, Grobler, Kriel, Ludlow, Morgan (capt).
Replacements: Fourie, Rapava Ruskin, Ford-Robinson, Ackermann, Polledri, Simpson, Twelvetrees, Banahan.
Saracens: Gallagher; Maitland, Taylor, Tompkins, Lewington; Manu Vunipola, Wigglesworth; Adams-Hale, Gray, Lamositele, Skelton, Isiekwe, Clark, Earl, Wray (capt).
Replacements: Singleton, Barrington, Wainwright, Kpoku, Hunter-Hill, Spencer, Lozowski, Segun.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.