Johan Ackermann (Getty Images)
London – Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann called on his side to raise their game after a they secured place in the title-deciding playoffs of the English Premiership on Sunday.
Even though the Cherry and Whites were beaten 27-20 away at Worcester, a losing bonus point saw Gloucester – one of English rugby union’s traditional big clubs – into the last four for the first time since 2011.
Table-toppers Exeter and reigning champions Saracens have already made it through to next month’s semi-finals.
Gloucester could now have the toughest possible last-four clash away to a Saracens side who are also through to a European Champions Cup final against Irish title-holders Leinster.
“Saracens are the best side in this competition, in my view,” said Ackermann.
“To be competitive in Europe and competitive in the Premiership, there must be something special about them,” the South African added: “And if we don’t want to be just a number, we have to be better than what we are.”
England exile Danny Cipriani again starred for Gloucester, the flyhalf creating first-half tries for wing Henry Purdy and scrum-half Willi Heinz before going off just shy of the hour mark with a finger injury.
Whether that impressed England coach Eddie Jones, who was among the crowd at Sixways, ahead of his squad announcement for this year’s World Cup remains to be seen.
But not even Cipriani could prevent a Worcester win.
Tries for fly-half Duncan Weir, who scored 17 points in total, hooker Niall Annett and lock Darren Barry, helped Midlands club Worcester to a victory that secured their Premiership status.
Asked about Cipriani’s injury, Ackermann added: “He is fine. He has just got a sore finger. It is not a break.”
Worcester are 11 points clear of basement club Newcastle with two games left after Sunday’s win.
Newcastle will be relegated if they do not beat Gloucester next weekend, or if Leicester collect two points or more against Harlequins on Friday.
“I felt it was important that we put it (survival) to bed today,” said Worcester’s South African coach Alan Solomons.
“It was a fantastic performance, and a brilliant defensive performance as well.”
There was a South African influence on the field as well, with 46-times capped Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard steering Worcester to victory.
“Francois was unbelievable,” said Solomons. “You are reluctant to single people out, but he was absolutely exceptional in defence.”