SARACENS 28 GLOUCESTER 23
PROUD Nigel Davies hailed Gloucester’s stirring Saracens slog despite defeat at Vicarage Road.
The Cherry and Whites outscored Saracens two tries to one but could not squeeze a try from a sequence of last-gasp penalties in the hosts’ 22.
Gloucester claimed tries from Dan Murphy and Akapusi Qera, but also suffered sin-bins for prop Murphy and back-row forward Sione Kalamafoni.
Charlie Hodgson landed seven from eight penalty attempts, and also converted Richard Wigglesworth’s try, to end the day with a crucial 23-point haul.
Replacement scrum-half Wigglesworth was also sin-binned, for collapsing a maul with two minutes remaining.
Gloucester won two penalties at lineouts and two at scrums in a last-gasp sequence camped on Saracens’ tryline.
But the visitors could not force a third and match-winning score.
Despite defeat rugby director Nigel Davies believes his squad have once again proved their potential.
Lamenting sloppiness in several areas, Davies hailed his side’s work ethic and commitment, and backed them to keep pace with the Premiership’s top performers.
He explained: “We let ourselves down on our exits, and that allowed Saracens some chances.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but they boys have been fantastic and we’re doing well.
“We’re working hard to get somewhere, and we’re on the right direction.
“We don’t for one minute believe we’re the finished article, but we do believe we’ve been making strides to that end and have been improving.
“And I think the players can be very proud of their effort both in this game and in the season as a whole so far.”
A stodgy affair opened with Twelvetrees and Hodgson trading two penalties apiece, before Murphy pounced just ahead of the half-hour.
Impressive flanker Qera charged down Hodgson’s clearance, front-rower Murphy controlled smartly with the boot and held off two despairing challenges to dot down.
Hodgson slotted two more penalties to keep Saracens just a point behind at the break, and quickly added fifth of the match after the turnaround.
Undeterred, Gloucester hit back through Qera, who finished well after a scything Kalamafoni break set a base camp in the Saracens 22, and Mike Tindall drove close from a scrum.
Hodgson then landed two penalties to Twelvetrees’ one – and heading into the final exchanges Saracens looked the stronger.
But Davies’ men exuded that resilience that has underpinned their campaign to date, and hauled themselves right back into the argument once again.
As time dwindled, Gloucester went for the win, kicked to the corner and produced a fine lineout drive.
Wigglesworth departed after his professional foul, and the Cherry and Whites scented victory blood.
After another near-miss lineout, Gloucester opted for a scrum from penalty number three.
Saracens buckled just as Gloucester were primed to drive home, but referee Sean Davey awarded another penalty rather than a penalty try.
Once again Gloucester chipped away, won another penalty and opted for yet another scrum.
But just when the Cherry and Whites thought they could seal the deal Saracens stole a march on the hit, and scuppered the comeback script.
Nudged backwards, Gloucester’s pack never recovered, and when the front-row popped up, Saracens had the penalty that sounded the final whistle.
Saracens love grinding to wins, perhaps because they are so adept.
After a near miss at reigning champions Harlequins, Gloucester fell just short against the 2011 title holders.
Encouraging no doubt – but Gloucester want their inspiration to come from setting the victory standard, rather than chasing that elusive scalp.
SARACENS: Tries: Wigglesworth (62) Cons: Hodgson (62) Pens: Hodgson 7 (10, 28, 33, 36, 43, 54, 71).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Murphy (29), Qera (48). Cons: Twelvetrees 2 (29, 48) Pens: Twelvetrees 3 (3, 7, 69).
SARACENS: Wigglesworth (78).
GLOUCESTER: Murphy (32), Kalamafoni (50).
SARACENS: C Wyles, D Strettle, J Tomkins, D Taylor (K Ratuvou, 72), J Short, C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 54), R Gill, J Smit (J George, 67), M Stevens (P du Plessis, 69), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (A Hargreaves, 77), G Kruis, W Fraser, E Joubert (A Saull, 30). Unused: N Auterac, N Mordt,.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, C Sharples, T Molenaar, M Tindall (T Taylor, 63), M Thomas (S Monahan, 52-57, 77), B Twelvetrees, J Cowan (D Robson, 63), D Murphy (N Wood, 55), D Dawidiuk (K Britton, 59), R Harden (S Knight, 55), W James, J Hamilton (capt), T Savage (N Wood, 34-41; M Cox, 77), A Qera, S Kalamafoni. Unused: P Buxton.
REFEREE: S Davey.