Gloucester kept their hopes of Heineken Cup rugby next season alive despite a one-point defeat against Saracens at Kingsholm on Saturday. The result saw the Kingsholm club confirm a home Wild Card semi next Sunday.
The losing bonus point sealed sixth place in the Zurich Premiership and a home tie against Newcastle at Kingsholm in the semi-final of the Zurich Wild Card next Sunday (Sun 8 May, Kick off 3.15pm).
Gloucester were hit by injuries before kick off with a number of absentees, and it continued in the first half with Jon Goodridge and Andy Hazell going off within the first half hour.
Gloucester had the majority of the possession and territory in the opening 30 minutes, but only managed three points from the boot of Duncan McRae to show for it.
Saracens snatched a break-away try on 18 minutes, and it wasn't until the second half that Gloucester took their first touchdown.
A well-worked converted try from 19 year-old Olly Morgan, who was making his first start, took Gloucester into a 13-7 lead after 65 minutes, and it looked like the regular season would end on a win at Kingsholm.
But Saracens caught Gloucester with a cross-field kick that was fielded by Ben Johnston. They maintained the momentum and the forwards pressured the Gloucester line.
There were three missed penalties from Gloucester's Duncan McRae, that could have edged Gloucester ahead.
Adam Balding and his forwards were then penalised for their first offence and referee David Rose awarded a penalty try to Saracens for the first offence.
Considering the mounting injuries, that saw the Gloucester side finish the game with Alex Page on the wing, and James Forrester in the centre, there was effort and pride on the pitch, that ended in a home Wild Card semi-final next weekend.
There were solid performances from a number of players, most notably James Bailey and Olly Morgan, who stood up well to the experienced Saracens back-line.
Gloucester's forwards struck the Saracens pack right down the middle with Boer and Balding hitting them where it hurt early on. Referee David Rose penalised the visitors and McRae lined up for the successful three points.
(3-0 to Glos)
Gloucester's effort and passion in the opening minutes couldn't be questioned as they pinned Saracens pack and hit them hard in every tackle.
Eustace was superb as he dived for a loose ball on the floor and won turnover ball, but after Rose spoke to his touch judge he reversed the decision against Balding and Saracens went to touch from just outside the Gloucester 22.
Hazell beat Saracens to another loose ball and McRae cleared. Vaikona took the kick and was hammered backwards by James Bailey in the tackle, the ball went out wide and Alex Brown took his man to floor as the Gloucester defence took control.
Gloucester countered after Powell won turnover ball, McRae spread it wide and James Simpson-Daniel showed the Saracens backline the ball and went the other way to make metres. Fanolua made in-roads on the crash ball, and McRae drifted across the Saracens defensive line and found Balding out wide, but the captain's hands couldn't hold on. Saracens fly-hacked ahead, but it was Balding who had made the metres back and regained possession.
McRae's kick into the corner by the Shed took Saracens back 30 metres, and maintained Gloucester's dominance in possession and territory in the opening quarter of an hour.
Despite Saracens being on the backfoot they scored the first try. Richard Hill picked up a loose ball inside his own 22 and found Thomas Castaignede out wide. He outpaced Balding on the wing and took the ball into the Gloucester 22, and had Ibanez in support, although he looked to have been ahead of the full-back when the ball was taken. The French hooker off-loaded in the tackle to Johnston for the try. Little converted.
(7-3 to Saracens)
James Bailey continued his good performance with a well-taken high kick, as Little was spoken to for elbowing the young Gloucester wing. The penalty kick went to touch and Eustace took the line-out, but as the forwards drove on, the ball popped out close to the line.
James Forrester replaced the injured Jon Goodridge. Forrester went to centre outside Fanolua, Simpson-Daniel moved to the wing, and Olly Morgan, in his first start for the club moved to full-back.
Forrester took the ball almost straight away, and set-up Boer to hit the angle out wide, before Saracens were penalised. McRae's kick hit the post and Bailey almost followed up with a try.
Hazell, who had taken a heavy knock, was replaced by Luke Narraway.
McRae charged down a Nicky Little kick on half-way before Referee Rose penalised Fanolua at the next phase.
Saracens eventually put more than a couple of phases together as their forwards moved the Gloucester pack backwards with a rolling maul. Gary Powell was penalised for pulling it down, and Little went to touch from five metres out. Gloucester stole their ball on their own line and Gomarsall cleared up-field.
40 mins (and injury time)
Gloucester were harshly penalised by the referee close to half time, when it appeared that Saracens had infringed as Bailey took the ball into contact, and the tackler didn't roll away. Gary Powell had done superbly in the build-up when he stole possession on half-way.
Gloucester hit back and spread the ball wide, but Bailey's pass to Simpson-Daniel was just wide and into touch.
Half time: Gloucester 3 Saracens 7
Dan Harris broke clean through from the restart, but his pass to Ibanez was knocked on and Gloucester cleared.
From a line-out inside the Saracens 22 the ball was spread wide to McRae, then Forrester. Gomarsall switched play, but Mefin Davies knocked on.
Referee David Rose continued to get a reaction from the Kingsholm crowd with his decisions as he penalised Gloucester for playing the ball on the ground and Nicky Little stepped up for the three points. His kick from in front of the posts went wide.
Saracens sent on Lloyd, Cairns and Fullarton to replace Yates, Ibanez and Rauluni.
Saracens were penalised in front of their posts as Narraway twirled his way through the visitor's defence, but McRae put his kick wide.
Fanolua, who had only just recovered from a back injury, was replaced by Alex Page. Page went to the wing and Simpson-Daniel moved back into midfield, as the knocks and injuries continued to disrupt the Gloucester team.
Eustace stole Saracens line-out ball and the visitors were penalised. McRae went to touch. Simpson-Daniel took the ball from the set-piece in the fly-half position and cut inside to make metres against the Saracens defence. Hugh Vyvyan was penalised and saw a yellow card, but McRae missed the three points.
Azam replaced Mefin Davies.
Saracens were penalised at a scrum six metres into their own half and McRae pointed to the sticks, and his kick was inch perfect.
(7-6 to Saracens)
Jake Boer was replaced by Peter Buxton.
Gloucester started to make in-roads again into the Saracens defence, but Gary Powell knocked on out wide.
It all came together a minute later. Gomarsall fed McRae on the 22, who found Forrester in midfield. Narraway, who was having a superb game, powered into the Saracens 22 and off-loaded in the tackle to Bailey. The young winger stood tall as the Saracens defence wrapped him up, and he found Olly Morgan on the touchline, who scored his first try, on his first start, in the corner. McRae's touchline conversion was inch-perfect.
(13-7 to Glos)
The game turned though, as Glen Jackson's cross-field kick found Ben Johnston out wide, as Alex Page as drifted in-field. He raced clear before being brought down a metre short. Forrester was shown a yellow card for a professional foul, and the Saracens forwards drive again, and were pulled down on their first attempt. Referee Davis Rose signalled a penalty try, and Jackson converted.
(14-13 to Saracens)
Gloucester's forwards were metres from the line when referee Rose penalised them, and then missed a knock-on later as Saracens cleared, that would have allowed Gloucester maintain field position.
Terry Sigley replaced Nick Wood.
McRae's clearance inside his own 22 was charged down by Richard Hill, but he knocked on as he tried to gather it, as the Kingsholm club held on to at least the bonus point.
Speaking straight after the game, skipper Billy Twelvetrees told GRTV that losing at home to Bath, in front of a tremendous home support, was desperately disappointing and that the whole team were hurting in the dressing room.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
On a tough evening at Kingsholm, Gloucester could escape neither a suffocating Bath defence, nor the whistle of referee Greg Garner as six penalties and a penalty try paved the way to a 39-16 win for the visitors.