A section of supporters in the Shed shouted insults and waved fake £50 notes as Saracens took the field, but money did not talk as loudly as Richard Wigglesworth whose calm authority helped the English and European champions finish a fraught week with their first victory here for four years.
Saracens were labelled cheats after a disciplinary panel found they had breached the salary cap rules and handed out a 35-points deduction this season as well as a £5m fine, but as the exact charges against them have, unacceptably, not been revealed, who knows whether they systematically flouted the regulations or were guilty of administrative incompetence.
Whatever, the Shed love a villain and the pantomime season beckons. Unfortunately for the home support, Wigglesworth played the role of straight guy from scrum-half, dictating play in the cold and wet so that, while Gloucester had the majority of possession, Sarries enjoyed territorial parity, played the far smarter rugby and controlled the set pieces.
Saracens led 16-5 at half-time after withstanding a strong Gloucester start. Wigglesworth was central to their lead. His long pass created the opening try for the centre Nick Tompkins, taking out the first wave of defence and giving the centre an outside route to the line.
Saracens had earned the position after Danny Cipriani’s kick had gone across the field rather than down it and been claimed by Sean Maitland. The Gloucester fly-half’s kicking was far less effective than Wigglesworth’s and the scrum-half was behind the second penalty kicked by Manu Vunipola after his teasing chip into the home 22 was knocked on by Jason Woodward.
Gloucester had won the last three Premiership fixtures against Saracens here. All the matches were played in one of the Test windows, and for all the talk of fairness last week, there was not one word about the disadvantage the clubs who supply the most players to the England squad, led by Sarries, face as they have to play more than one-third of their league fixtures with a weakened squad.
Saracens were some way below strength here, although two of England’s World Cup squad were on the bench, the hooker Jack Singleton, who came on to make his club debut, and Ben Spencer, who replaced Wigglesworth after 53 minutes.
“Same old Saracens, always cheating,” sang spectators when Gloucester won a penalty, but the chant faded as their side was given a lesson in how to play in a hostile climate. Cipriani played after recovering from a calf strain, but was never a commanding presence and he made way for Billy Twelvetrees on the hour.
Saracens were 21-5 ahead by then, profiting from their ability to turn position into points and Gloucester’s tendency to play too much in their own half and make mistakes. Saracens were rarely stressed with the home side offering little beyond Ollie Thorley’s menace in broken play. Their first try came out of nothing, Ben Morgan’s charge out of his 22 was followed by Tom Marshall taking off 70m out, going past his opposite number Alex Lewington and taking out Matt Gallagher with a kick before chipping to the line and beating Maitland to the bounce.
Manu Vunipola had given Saracens the lead with a penalty after Josh Hohneck had detached from a scrum before Tompkins made it 10-0. Marshall gave the crowd a reason to crow, but Wigglesworth drew three defenders offside by delaying a pass from a ruck and Vunipola kicked the penalty before the fly-half completed the opening half’s scoring with another three points.
Saracens scored two tries in a minute from a driving maul early in the second period, but only one counted. Nick Isiekwe touched down for the first, but it was ruled out on review because Jackson Wray obstructed the defence, but not before Fraser Balmain had been lured offside. Saracens were awarded the penalty, kicked it to touch and mauled their way over again after Tompkins and Duncan Taylor joined in for Ben Earl to finish off.
Gloucester huffed their way to a try for Lewis Ludlow after 10 minutes of penalties and pressure, but their looseness allowed Sarries to cash in and Earl to cap a typically detached, efficient display.