Two tries from outside centre Joel Tomkins proved not enough as Saracens were punished for a sloppy display with a 28-23 defeat to Gloucester.

The scoreline flattered the Men in Black who were far from their best in this match but still nearly stole an unlikely victory at the death.

Jonny May scored twice for the hosts in the first half with Tomkins going over once in reply as Ben Morgan stretched Gloucester’s lead in the second period before another score from Tomkins set up an exciting finish.

Saracens though were unable to complete another unlikely comeback and while this result has little effect on their Premiership campaign – they remain top of the table – the Men in Black will need to improve drastically if they are to beat Toulon next week in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

Sarries recalled seven players to their line-up as Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth, Steve Borthwick, Alistair Hargreaves, Will Fraser and Ernst Joubert were all handed starting spots while Chris Ashton, Kelly Brown and Brad Barritt were rested.

Gloucester set their stall out early on, planting kicks behind the Saracens back line and following them up with a high, aggressive defence.

The plan worked and Freddie Burns gave the hosts a 3-0 lead after five minutes from the tee before more Gloucester pressure created a try three minutes later.

Billy Twelvetrees found space out wide and an overlap allowed the England centre to feed May who barged his way over to extend the home side’s lead to 8-0.

Burns missed the target with his conversion but Gloucester continued to dominate the proceedings as a jaded – perhaps complacent - Saracens struggled to establish a grip on the match.

Farrell reduced the deficit with a well-taken penalty from long range in the 11th minute as Burns missed an opportunity to return the favour at the other end soon after.

With Gloucester failing to convert pressure into points, Saracens scored their first try with their first meaningful attack after 21 minutes.

Farrell’s pass was illegally obstructed and as the Sarries man stopped, anticipating the whistle, so did Gloucester’s defence but Tomkins played on and strolled through to draw the visitors level.

Farrell converted and having been on the back foot for the majority of the half, Saracens led 10-8.

The Sarries inside centre compounded the hosts’ misery with his second penalty but Gloucester, undeterred, came back strong.

Pulling their opponents from side to side, the home side looked threatening going forward and after a sustained spell of pressure Burns received the ball near the 22 line.

The fly-half had an overlap outside him but, with only Chris Wyles to beat, Burns drove through a perfectly weighted kick for May to collect and put over the line for his and Gloucester’s second try.

Burns converted to restore the hosts' lead before adding his second penalty in the 37th minute to give Gloucester a deserved 18-13 half-time lead.

Sarries have prided themselves this season on their resilience and ability to solve a game’s problems but the first quarter of an hour of the second period saw no change in the flow of the match.

Gloucester balanced precision with the boot with aggression in the pack and Saracens continued to look a pale shadow of the team that sits top of the Aviva Premiership.

In the 65th minute Burns lifted a tempting kick into the Sarries 22 and as full-back Alex Goode let the ball bounce, he fumbled it into the path of Twelvetrees who looked like he would capitalise from close range before Goode scrambled back to bring his England teammate down.

The greatest obstacle to Gloucester’s rhythm came from referee JP Doyle whose mismanagement of the scrum riled the home crowd and disrupted the action.

Farrell reduced the gap with a penalty but the home fans were all smiles again on the hour mark as Morgan, making his first start since January, drove forward out of a scrum before evading two Saracens tackles and diving over the line.

Burns added the extras to give Gloucester a commanding 25-16 advantage with less than 20 minutes to play.

The visitors’ faint hopes of a comeback were handed a boost as Gloucester’s Dan Robson was sin-binned and the Men in Black’s pressure on the home side’s line eventually paid dividends as Mako Vunipola neatly offloaded to Tomkins who breezed through for his second try of the game.

Farrell added the conversion and with ten minutes to go Saracens had reduced the arrears to just two points with the score 25-23.

But the Men in Black were unable to complete the comeback and with the last kick of the game Burns capped off an impressive home victory with a penalty. 

Gloucester Rugby: 15 Rob Cook 14 Charlie Sharples 13 Henry Trinder 12 Billy Twelvetrees 11 Jonny May 10 Freddie Burns 9 Dan Robson 1 Nick Wood (Murphy, 52) 2 Koree Britton 3 Shaun Knight (Thomas, 66) 4 Tom Savage (capt) 5 Lua Lokotui 6 Sione Kalamafoni 7 Akapusi Qera (Hazell, 65) 8 Ben Morgan

Replacements: 16 Tommaso d'Apice 17 Dan Murphy 18 Yann Thomas 19 Peter Buxton 20 Andy Hazell 21 Dave Lewis 22 Ryan Mills 23 Martyn Thomas

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode 14 Chris Wyles (Maddock, 73) 13 Joel Tomkins 12 Owen Farrell 11 David Strettle 10 Charlie Hodgson (Taylor, 55) 9 Richard Wigglesworth (Spencer, 69) 1 Rhys Gill (Vunipola, 52) 2 John Smit (George, 52) 3 Matt Stevens (Nieto, 60) 4 Steve Borthwick (capt) 5 Alistair Hargreaves (Kruis, 68) 6 Jackson Wray 7 Will Fraser (Burger, 16) 8 Ernst Joubert

Replacements: 16 Jamie George 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Carlos Nieto 19 George Kruis 20 Jacques Burger 21 Ben Spencer 22 Duncan Taylor 23 Joe Maddock

Referee: JP Doyle

Attendance: 15,537