Saracens reached their second consecutive Premiership final in style with a destructive 44-19 victory over a Gloucester side that was overpowered and overwhelmed on their return to the play-offs after an eight-year hiatus, securing one half of the Twickenham showcase that was predicted 22 rounds ago.
It will be up to Exeter Chiefs to complete that prediction, but any hopes of a Gloucester win here at Allianz Park were over before the first pints had been sunk. The visitors came armed with a strong contingent that made up for the alarming 9,568 non-sell-out, and they were roaring in delight when Ben Morgan crossed for the opening try of the match.
But Saracens are European champions for good reason and they’re well-documented celebrations last week is no sign that they’re going to give up on their English crown any time soon. A 28-minute hat-trick from replacement centre Nick Tompkins blew Gloucester away, with additional tries from Sean Maitland, Ben Spencer and Liam Williams.
Gloucester produced an impressive late fightback to score two more tries through Ruan Dreyer and Lewis Ludlow, but by that point the bench had been offloaded and Saracens were already thinking about Twickenham once again. It will take something special to stop them from retaining their title next weekend.
Perhaps the most impressive part was that this dominant display was produced without either first-choice prop, with Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele's absence allowing Richard Barrington and Vincent Koch to step up in their place - two seamless changes to the side that beat Leinster two weeks ago in Newcastle.
For three minutes though, Gloucester threatened the unthinkable. After George Kruis uncharacteristically dropping the unchallenged kick-off, the visitors made the most of the early opportunity and worked their first chance to score with sheer-brilliant backs play. The build-up to the first semi-final of the day centred around Danny Cipriani and the will he/won’t he win an England recall, but it was full-back Jason Woodward who Saracens should have been focussing on.
It’s been forgotten that Woodward is eligible for England and not so long ago was actually selected by Eddie Jones for a training camp two years ago. He’s no longer in the international reckoning but it was his awareness that brought the opening score, running a smart inside line on the shoulder of Mark Atkinson that took play away from the Saracens rush defence. Woodward evaded Jamie George, before shipping the ball through the hands of Tom Marshall to No 8 Morgan to score in the corner. Billy Twelvetrees added the touchline conversion to give the Cherry and Whites the dream start, but that was about as good as it got.
Within 90 seconds, Saracens were celebrating their own try. Again it all stemmed from a restart not taken, handing Saracens possession, and Farrell spotted space out wide for Maitland to kick over the top and allow the Scotland wing to race onto the ball and score. Farrell missed the extras but soon enough it transpired that it would not be a day where conversions would decide the match.
Saracens wouldn’t lead until the 16th minute when Cipriani’s loose offload resulted in an offside, though the penalty should have been his as the entire Saracens defensive line was offside from Spencer’s box-kick. Farrell kicked the penalty before missing another six minutes later, but soon enough the tries started to flow.
It began with a moment of brilliance from Maro Itoje, who took Billy Vunipola’s offload on the inside shoulder and sold an outrageous dummy that sent Willi Heinz into another postcode, before having the awareness to offload to Spencer to score.
Farrell converted the try and added another three points soon after and, even at 18-7, you felt that Gloucester were up against it with half-time approaching. But Saracens had one more trick up their sleeve and it would prove the most damaging score of the match. A key tactic of this Saracens side is the double-kick, with Spencer’s box-kick clearing their lines at a contestable length and the follow-up - this time from Farrell - designed to attack space. Lozowski did exactly that, taking the catching and sprinting on with only Heinz to beat and by committing the scrum-half, he popped the ball up for Williams to score in the corner three minutes from the break.
With a 16-point buffer, Saracens were looking in cruise control, but that was far from from the case in the home dressing room as they started the second half like a house on fire.
Within two minutes of the restart, the hulking figure of Vunipola unsurprisingly sucked in two defenders and created the space for Tompkins to rush through a huge gap and score unopposed. That Tompkins was needed to come on so early was the biggest concern for Saracens, with captain Brad Barritt forced off with a hamstring injury but in Tompkins Saracens have a more than ample replacement.
That Saracens had to wait eight minutes for their next points was unusual in that Farrell missed not one but two kicks at goal in an off day with the boot, but when the fifth try arrived it was a thing of beauty. Gloucester coughed up the ball to a diving Will Skelton when he spotted an absent scrum-half, and the counter-attack was brutal. George released Goode who raced away and passed right to Lozowski, who made 20-plus metres before electing to go outside him to Williams. Williams wisely passed back inside to Farrell, whose rapid hands sent Tompkins in for his second and the try of the match.
By the 56th minute, Tompkins sealed his hat-trick after both Goode and Itoje had gone close, and at 44-7 to the good, the half-century loomed.
It did not arrive though. Much to Gloucester’s credit, they fought back to score two consolation tries, one through replacement prop Ruan Dreyer and the other from fellow substitute Lewis Ludlow. The second score saw the flanker out-run Farrell in a race for the line that left the fly-half punching the 4G pitch in anger, a symbol of where Saracens put their expectations.
It is not wrong to argue that even though the win was in the bag and the team bus warming up for another trip to Twickenham, the failure to hit the 50 mark - and going 24 minutes without scoring a point - will be a big disappointment for Mark McCall’s side. It is almost a warning for their opposition next week: they’re probably going to be even better.