Owen Farrell’s dramatic drop goal earns Saracens thrilling win over Gloucester
- Gloucester 16-19 Saracens
- England captain could be cited for high tackle during win
Rugby union seems to be in a state of permanent upheaval but some things never change. Gloucester remain fiendishly difficult to beat at home, where the roar of the fans is worth a 16th man and more, but Owen Farrell is one of the steeliest competitors in sport. It was the Saracens captain’s long-range drop-goal, with the final kick, that settled a pulsating encounter neither side deserved to lose.
Gloucester must be sick of the sight of Farrell, who won the match between the sides at the StoneX Stadium last September with a cold-eyed late penalty. The England man had missed four times off the tee but clinched victory when it counted. Farrell’s high hit on the Gloucester replacement Jack Clement may attract the attention of the citing commissioner, however, which could endanger his availability for the start of the Six Nations on 4 February.
England’s new head coach Steve Borthwick was at Kingsholm and will not only have taken notes on the players; he also received a reminder of the value of a passionate, vocal crowd and sheer desire. Gloucester’s pre-match injury list numbered 17, their lineout misfired and they were guilty of several unforced errors. Yet their defensive workrate and attacking opportunism brought them close to a remarkable result.
“I thought we showed a lot of resilience at key times,” said the Saracens head coach, Mark McCall, whose side now lead second-placed Sale by 14 points. “It was a good, tough game and we’re just glad to come out the right side.”
Sarries were all silky handling and elusive running early on, Gloucester’s defenders scrambling to contain their supremely well-drilled visitors. Mako Vunipola barrelled over only to be held up, but Saracens kept coming, another slick attack culminating in Malins touching down. Although Farrell screwed the conversion wide a long night appeared to be in store for Gloucester.
George Skivington’s men rallied and were over the tryline themselves when what appeared to be a perfect driving maul off a lineout saw the No 8 Ben Morgan touch down. Santiago Carreras was standing over the conversion when the TMO ruled the try out for a dummy throw by hooker George McGuigan.
No matter. A lovely pop pass by Chris Harris in midfield sent Ollie Thorley racing for the corner. Ignoring Jonny May outside, Thorley managed to shrug off Ben Earl’s tackle to score and Carreras’s conversion had Gloucester in front. Two Farrell penalties, and one from Carreras, saw the contest poised at 10-11 to Saracens at the break.
The home prop Val Rapava-Ruskin did not emerge for the second half due to a back spasm and with Gloucester having already lost the full-back Lloyd Evans to a head injury they appeared to be up against it. They were undaunted: Carreras knocked over a long-range penalty, and was soon roaring through the middle with ball in hand. Alex Goode interrupted the Argentinian’s progress with a cynical block and was shown a yellow card, but Carreras missed the resulting penalty.
Farrell sent a potentially lead-restoring kick of his own against a post with 25 minutes left but Saracens were probing, building pressure in the Gloucester 22. Thorley claimed a mark from Farrell’s high cross-kick, which allowed Meehan, the scrum-half, to pull off a stunning 50:22 box kick that appeared to be a massive momentum shift.
Appearances can be deceptive, though, and when Alex Lewington intercepted for Saracens they stormed down to the other end and were halted only by a fine covering tackle by Thorley. Saracens surged down the left, Earl carrying powerfully and allowing the replacement Ivan van Zyl to snatch a try that put the visitors three points ahead.
Farrell was awry off the tee again with the conversion, which allowed Carreras to even things up at 16-16 with six minutes left and set up a classic finish. After Saracens worked through several phases in the home 22, Farrell dropped back to apply the finishing touch.
“I thought it was a good ding-dong,” said Skivington. “If we’d nicked it at the end it would have been a fair outcome … so a draw would probably have been a fair outcome. They’ve done that to us twice now – we’ve just got to learn from that, and keep pushing on.” Farrell will hope to push on to the Six Nations, but a ban looks highly likely.