Saracens laid down a Gallagher Premiership marker with a superb five-try win over Gloucester, their fourth full-point victory in four games this season. Both sides arrived unbeaten, but Saracens lifted their game another level to show Gloucester how far they have to go to catch the Champions. Saracens started fast, with a try after six minutes, and never let up.
In Danny Cipriani’s quest to emphatically prove Eddie Jones’ peculiar decision to leave him out of this week’s England training squad wrong, up against the champions and directly opposite one of those ahead of him in the pecking order, things never really got going. Saracens played all the rugby and the direction of travel up front limited Cipriani’s impact to some decent kicking front hand, half-breaks and deft touches. It was Owen Farrell, opposite him, allowed to throw the flat, defence-opening passes to an outstanding set of outside backs, and he had a hand in three of Sarries’ tries. Conditions, after heavy overnight and early morning rain were replaced by bright autumn sun, improved for Cipriani but he was stifled well by Sarries.
Some sluggish service from Callum Braley did not help, and it was thanks to his replacement Ben Vellacott’s lively quick tap that they even managed a try at all, from Mark Atkinson, in the 72nd minute. Billy Twelvetrees’ scuffed conversion, which hit the upright, rather summed up their day. Another try came with the last play of the game, with Saracens down to 14 men after Brad Barritt’s injury, from Charlie Sharples on the left wing. Twelvetrees put this one over, leaving the final score 38-15, which only flattered Gloucester.
Saracens did not struggle to score. An outstanding first half-hour - all charge-downs and turnovers - from Maro Itoje, part of a monstrous back-five from No6, was rewarded with a remarkable try. Saracens had enjoyed a period of concerted pressure, moving right then left at pace, before Farrell hoisted the ball high into the swirl from 22 metres out. It landed, unimpeded by players from both sides trying to take it, on the tryline, bouncing backwards - perhaps via a little nick on the crossbar - into Itoje’s grateful hands. He duly dived over under the posts, and Sarries’ lead was 17-0.
It had been extended to 21 points by the break, with Itoje central to both scores. He gave away a penalty in front of the posts, allowing Twelvetrees - having turned a tougher chance down earlier - to knock over Gloucester’s first three points, then Itoje scored again. This try came in more conventional fashion; following a series of penalties kicked increasingly close to the corner and a Sarries driving maul, he bundled over. In very different manners, Itoje had two tries from a combined two metres. In a fine all-round showing, he made 14 tackles, too. Mako Vunipola’s 16 won him the player of the match award, but Itoje cannot have been far behind.
Shortly before that second Itoje try, a long break had seen Gloucester’s own back-row require a rebuild, with Ryan Ackermann and Lewis Ludlow - the latter appearing more serious - forced to leave the field. Gloucester weathered blows all day.
It is not just in the pack that Sarries have an abundance of riches. There were tries for both their experienced, explosive wingers, David Strettle (after six minutes) and Sean Maitland (after 53). There was no place this week for Alex Lewington, who has made such a fine start to life at the club, while Alex Goode started on the bench, with the electric Liam Williams in his normal spot at full-back. Whoever was on the field, the back three were superb, with Maitland playing a vital hand - combining quick feet and slick hands - in Strettle’s early try in the right hand corner, then gorgeous passes from Farrell and Goode putting Maitland in after Strettle had gone off.
With the bonus point secure - the win seemed certain plenty earlier - Saracens emptied the bench and stretched the game further. A fifth, and indeed sixth try felt inevitable. Schalk Burger was held up after Maitland’s break, but Alex Lozowski, who had started on the bench, finished a fine, flowing move. With Barritt forced off injured, that sixth try never quite arrived, although Itoje came close to a hat-trick, with his intercept on halfway knocked on. Never mind, Sarries had plenty.