Gloucester Rugby 8 Saracens 29
Gloucester’s dismal season resumed as they were comprehensively outclassed by Saracens at Kingsholm.
Following back-to-back wins over the festive period, the Cherry and Whites entered 2014 with plenty of cause for optimism.
But they were brought back to reality with a bang as the Premiership pacesetters stormed to glory with three tries in a one-sided encounter.
Neil de Kock, David Strettle and Alex Goode all crossed for the superior visitors before Gloucester rallied with a Matt Cox score.
The defeat was Gloucester’s heaviest to Saracens on their home patch and sees Nigel Davies’ men remain ninth.
Meanwhile Saracens leap-frogged Northampton Saints back to the top of the league table.
Davies made just on change to the side that conquered London Irish, with Freddie Burns returning to the starting line-up, following two weeks on the bench, to go up against England rival Owen Farrell.
It was just one of several Red Rose match-ups but the Cherry and Whites’ hopefuls had nothing to cheer about as they were smashed by Sarries.
The visitors made a commanding start at Kingsholm and they charged downfield with a relentless onslaught of forward drives. They hammered at the Gloucester try-line and Jimmy Cowan was sent to the sin-bin, with Owen Farrell slotting the ensuing penalty on four minutes.
The league leaders continued to dominate affairs and they quickly grabbed the opening try.
Steve Borthwick took the ball at the front of a lineout and the Londoners launched a rolling maul, with Schalk Brits peeling from the side and putting de Kock clear.
Farrell failed to convert but he quickly booted the scoreboard back into action after their juggernaut pack earned a penalty at the scrum.
Mike Tindall prevented a certain try with a crucial interception on 18 minutes but it did not take the visitors long to grab their second touchdown of the afternoon.
They stretched the Cherry and Whites’ defence with slick handling from Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt to release Brits and the electric hooker mesmerised with some dazzling footwork to send Strettle over the whitewash.
Farrell was once again off target with the conversion but the try put Saracens in a formidable position, leading 16-0 after little more than 20 minutes.
The England fly-half stretched the scoreboard even further with a third penalty on the half hour mark before Gloucester enjoyed their first real venture into Saracens territory.
They left empty-handed as Saracens won a scrum penalty to clear their lines but soon returned and Twelvetrees slotted Gloucester’s first points after he was tackled late to bring the scores to 19-3 at the interval.
It was a resumption of usual service in the second-half with Goode scything over after just eight minutes.
The Saracens pack laid the foundations at the scrum, where they put Nick Wood under enormous pressure.
Gloucester appeared in danger of conceding a penalty try, and potentially a player to the sin-bin, but held firm.
But despite surviving at the set-piece they conceded from first-phase, scrappy ball as Saracens spread possession and crossed with ease.
Dan Robson was introduced on 54 minutes and made an immediate impact with a trademark snipe that almost led to a try.
He was held agonisingly short but Billy Vunipola was sin-binned for killing the ball.
Gloucester opted for the corner and were awarded yet another penalty after Borthwick took James Hudson out in the air.
To the delight of The Shed crowd the former Bath man was also sent for 10 minutes on the touchline and the Cherry and Whites appeared primed with a try to give themselves a glimmer of hope.
With Saracens reduced to 13 men Gloucester went for a scrum but amazingly the visitors six-man pack earned a penalty to clear their lines.
To rub further salt into the wounds Saracens soon had a penalty of their own and Farrell was once again on target as they won the period reduced to 13 men, 3-0.
Gloucester, to their credit, refused to throw in the towel despite being comprehensively outclassed in every facet.
They enjoyed more possession deep in Saracens territory and following a sustained period of pressure Cox burrowed over for a late consolation.
Gloucester Rugby: R Cook (M Thomas 62); C Sharples, M Tindall (S Monahan 62), B Twelvetrees (capt), J May; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson 54); N Wood (Y Thomas 75), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk 45), S Puafisi (S Knight 45, S Puafisi 75), E Stooke (W James 61), J Hudson, M Cox, M Kvesic, B Morgan (G Evans 64)
Scorers: Try - M Cox; Pen – B Twelvetrees.
Sin Bin: Cowan (4).
Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles 66); O Farrell (C Hodgson 71), N de Kock (R Wigglesworth 54); M Vunipola (R Gill 61), S Brits (J George 61), J Johnston (M Stevens 55), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (M Botha 68), J Wray, K Brown (J Melck 66), B Vunipola.
Scorers: Tries- N de Kock, D Strettle, A Goode; Con – O Farrell; Pens – O Farrell 4.
Sin Bin: B. Vunipola (55), Borthwick (57).
Referee: L Pearce
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But Nigel Davies has opted to rest Henry Trinder due to a niggling groin injury, with Billy Twelvetrees and Mike Tindall moving across the three-quarter line.
It is the only change to the starting line-up that overcame an Exiles fight back at the Madejski Stadium, with Darren Dawidiuk also recalled to the replacements bench.
The Cherry and White face a formidable challenge against Saracens, who have won 10 or their 11 league encounters this season.
They have claimed just one triumph at Kingsholm since 2005 but have selected a power-packed side, including six changes to the side that slayed Worcester Warriors.
Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Marcelo Bosch all return to the first XV, while England centre Brad Barritt makes his first start since September following injury.
Up front Steve Borthwick comes in to captain the side from the second-row while James Johnston replaces Matt Stevens on the tight-head.
While the game is of huge importance to both clubs’ domestic campaigns, the encounter will take on a fascinating international sub-plot with no less than five potential England match ups.
Charlie Sharples v David Strettle
Billy Twelvetrees v Brad Barritt
Jonny May v Chris Ashton
Freddie Burns v Owen Farrell
Ben Morgan v Billy Vunipola
Gloucester Rugby: R Cook; C Sharples, M Tindall, B Twelvetrees (capt), J May; F Burns, J Cowan; N Wood, H Edmonds, S Puafisi, E Stooke, J Hudson, M Cox, M Kvesic, B Morgan
D Dawidiuk, Y Thomas, S Knight, W James, G Evans, D Robson, S Monahan, M Thomas
Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell N de Kock; M Vunipola, S Brits, J Johnston, S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves, J Wray, K Brown, B Vunipola.
Replacements: J George, R Gill, M Stevens, M Botha, J Melck, R Wigglesworth, C Hodgson, C Wyles