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Charlie Hodgson's 23 points from the tee and a Richard Wigglesworth try sees Saracens beat Gloucester 28-23
Charlie Hodgson announced his return from injury in dramatic style as the Saracens number ten kicked 23 points to set up a thrilling 28-23 win over Gloucester this afternoon.
The fly-half didn't have things all his own way as his closed down clearance led to Gloucester's Dan Murphy scoring a try in the first half but Hodgson more than made amends as seven out of eight kicks - as well as a brilliant second-half score from Richard Wigglesworth - secured a vital Sarries victory.
It was Hodgson's first match since suffering a fractured cheek against Wasps four weeks ago while Rhys Gill also returned and captain Steve Borthwick made his 100th appearance for the club.
Saracens were slow starting and two penalties within the first ten minutes put Gloucester 6-0 ahead, with fly-half Billy Twelvetrees finding the target on both occasions.
The hosts reduced the gap to three though soon after as Hodgson struck a superb penalty from out wide.
The next quarter of an hour was spent largely in the middle third of the pitch as Neil de Kok looked to add variety to the Men in Black's play with a smattering of box kicks and reverse passes but neither side were able to find a way through.
The next score again came from the boot as an infringement at the breakdown presented Hodgson with the chance to level the scores and the experienced number ten made no mistake.
It appeared any try-scoring opportunities would perhaps come through error rather than invention and just after the half hour mark, so it proved.
Hogson's clearance inside the Saracens 22 was closed down and as the ball broke free Murphy reacted first, kicking the ball over the line before diving over to put the visitors 13-6 to the good.
An unusual blotch on Hodgson's kicking copy book, the Sarries number ten soon set about atoning for his error as he dispatched two more penalties - the second a superb strike from long-range - to haul the hosts back to within a point before the interval.
Halt-time lasted long enough for one spectator to earn himself a quick £1,000 by catching three consecutive kicks but it did nothing to upset Hodgson's rhythm.
Within moments of the restart the fly-half continued where he left off, notching his fifth penalty of the match to give Saracens a 15-13 advantage.
The lead though was short-lived. Gloucester worked the ball into the left corner where the driving pack saw Akapusi Qera touch down for the visitors' second try and when Twelvetrees added the extras Gloucester were once again ahead with the game delicately poised at 20-15.
Following a similar pattern to the first half, Saracens gradually recovered from their slumber and began to exert control over proceedings.
Will Fraser did his growing international credentials no harm at all with an imperious performance in the pack and when Hodgson struck home his sixth penalty, Saracens were back within touching distance.
Sensing the momentum had changed, the Men in Black continued to probe and as Chris Wyles glided through the Gloucester midfield, substitute Richard Wigglesworth was on hand to receive the pass before diving over the line to give Saracens their first try of the game.
Hodgson then made a tough conversion from out wide look easy to make it 25-20 with 18 minutes to play.
A penalty apiece, from the faultless Twelvetrees and then Hodgson, set up a dramatic finale as the score became 28-23 with less than ten minutes left on the clock.
Gloucester set the home fans' nerves jangling with a wave of late pressure but the visitors were unable to find the try they needed and Mark McCall's men held on for a well-earned win.
The victory sends Saracens second in the Aviva Premiership before they face the first of two matches against Munster in the Heineken Cup next weekend.
Saracens: Chris Wyles, David Strettle, Joel Tomkins, Duncan Taylor, James Short, Charlie Hodgson, Neil de Kock, Rhys Gill, John Smit, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (capt), Mouritz Botha, George Kruis, Will Fraser, Ernst Joubert
Replacements: Jamie George, Nick Auterac, Petrus du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves, Andy Saull, Richard Wigglesworth, Nils Mordt, Kameli Ratuvou
Gloucester: Rob Cook, Charlie Sharples, Tim Molenaar, Mike Tindall, Martyn Thomas, Billy Twelvetrees, Jimmy Cowan, Dan Murphy, Darren Dawidiuk, Rupert Harden, Will James, Jim Hamilton (capt), Tom Savage, Akapusi Qera, Sione Kalamafoni
Replacements: Koree Britton, Nick Wood, Shaun Knight, Peter Buxton, Matt Cox, Dan Robson, Tim Taylor, Shane Monahan