RAMPANT Saracens reclaimed top spot in the Aviva Premiership from their major title rivals Northampton after earning a crushing 29-8 win over Gloucester at Kingsholm.
Saints took pole position following victory over Harlequins on Friday night, but Saracens shunted them out of the way in ruthless fashion.
Scrum-half Neil de Kock, wing David Strettle and full-back Alex Goode scored tries, while England stand-off Owen Farrell booted 14 points. All Gloucester could muster in reply was a Billy Twelvetrees penalty and a late Matt Cox try, but their pack was painfully dismantled, with England internationals Ben Morgan and Matt Kvesic experiencing an afternoon to forget.
Even when they had two players sin-binned in quick succession during the second half, Saracens defiantly kept Gloucester scoreless during that eight-minute period.
The Kingsholm pitch had been protected from continued rainfall by a plastic dome since New Year’s Eve, and it did the job.
Gloucester fell 8-0 behind inside nine minutes and saw scrum-half Jimmy Cowan sin-binned, for illegally halting a Saracens forward drive, and the visitors took advantage, with Farrell kicking a penalty and De Kock crossing wide out.
A second Farrell penalty hoisted Saracens 11 points clear as a one-sided opening quarter neared its conclusion.
Saracens soon struck again, cutting their opponents open through slick passing by Brad Barritt, Goode and Brits before Strettle touched down.
The teams were separated by 25 points in the Premiership before kick-off, and such a gulf was underlined as Farrell’s third penalty put Saracens further ahead.
Gloucester did not threaten Saracens’ 22 until just before half-time, and although a brief spell of pressure resulted in Twelvetrees kicking a penalty, it did nothing to mask Saracens’ overwhelming control of the contest.
After the break the Saracens scrum shunted Gloucester backwards, secured possession and then moved it wide to give Goode a simple run-in. Farrell’s conversion made it 26-3.
Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola, pictured, was sin-binned for illegal work on the ground, then referee Luke Pearce showed Steve Borthwick a yellow card just two minutes later but, even with 13 players, Saracens looked in little trouble. Another Farrell penalty rubbed salt into a gaping Gloucester wound, although Cox touched down from close range in the 70th minute.
In the other premiership game, Australian James O’Connor scored all of his side’s points as London Irish won the battle of the bottom two sides against Worcester at the Madejski Stadium.
O’Connor contributed a try, a conversion and five penalties as Irish produced a strong second-half performance to claim the win and put a 14-point gap between themselves and the rock-bottom Warriors, whose hopes of avoiding relegation now look all but over after this 22-9 defeat.
Worcester were in contention at 6-6 at the interval but they were swept aside after the break to crash to a 12th successive defeat this season, with their points coming from three Chris Pennell penalties.
In the RaboDirect PRO12, Zebre claimed their first win over Italian rivals Treviso thanks to the boot of stand-off Luciano Orquera.
The hosts, who had lost in Treviso a week ago, trailed 9-5 at the break despite scoring the only try through full-back Guglielmo Palazzani as No.10 Mat Berquist kicked three penalties for the visitors.
Berquist added another three-pointer after the resumption but a trio of penalties for Italy international Orquera gave Zebre a 14-12 victory.