It all came down to the last kick. After Saracens had forced themselves level with Gloucester – having trailed by 12 points with 10 minutes left – Owen Farrell stood over a difficult, match-winning conversion out on the wing. The stadium fell silent, the fly-half steadied himself, took a few deep breaths and struck the ball unerringly through the posts. Farrell pointed to the sky and the crowd went wild.
For much of a captivating second half Gloucester looked set for a second straight bonus-point victory. This was Saracens’ first home match since the Premiership semi-final victory against Harlequins in June, with the newly built West Stand opening its doors. George Skivington’s men so nearly spoiled the party but the replacement Saracens hooker, Tom Woolstencroft, came off the bench to score two late tries. The unflappable Farrell did the rest.
“Well done to the bench, they had a big impact on the last 20 minutes,” said the Saracens head coach, Mark McCall. “We had a horrible period either side of half-time when we conceded 26 points. The game was getting away from us. While we are really pleased with the result at the end, and the impact of the bench, there’s probably more bad than good in the match. The way we lost our way is something we’ll have to reflect on.”
A ding-dong encounter had started well for Saracens when they cut through Gloucester’s defence with ominous ease after three minutes and Max Malins crossed for the first try after the ball was worked to the left wing.
Gloucester gathered themselves after a worrying start and established a bit of field position, but were frequently driven back by some punishing tackling. Mako Vunipola’s crunching hit on Ollie Thorley left the wing needing treatment and the prop Harry Elrington went off injured after being double-teamed by the workaholic Saracens defence.
The openside flanker, Ben Earl, added another well-worked try after Val Rapava-Ruskin had celebrated his 100th Premiership appearance for Gloucester by coming on for Elrington to score their first five-pointer. The Gloucester No 8, Albert Tuisue, capped an excellent first-half display when he flopped down to score from a sturdy driving maul.
There were just three points in it at half-time and it looked beautifully poised but Gloucester, with a remarkable display of power, appeared ready to overwhelm Sarries in the second half. When Chris Harris, Adam Hastings and Rapava-Ruskin added further tries to establish a commanding lead there was a sense of disbelief among the home supporters. Hastings’ effort, in particular, was a superb score in the corner that survived a TMO check for a foot in touch.
A Hastings penalty with 10 minutes remaining stretched Gloucester’s lead to 12. McCall’s team pounced on some inaccuracy from the visitors and laid siege to their try-line in the closing minutes. Jackson Wray’s introduction “lifted the whole group’s energy,” McCall said, and Woolstencroft applied a smart finish to a muscular Saracens attack with six minutes left. When Farrell converted there were five points in it.
Elliot Daly’s dart into space had the home fans roaring and led to a penalty that Saracens kicked for the corner. Woolstencroft was shoved over for his second try and it was left to Farrell to prove his spirit and skill with a magnificently cool winning kick.
“There’s no point pretending you don’t feel a bit sick about that one,” said Skivington. “We had a 12-point lead and we didn’t manage it well enough.” Of Farrell’s match-sealing moment he said: “I knew he was going to kick it. I’d packed my bags at that point.”