Hill faces a long and winding road

Gloucester 12 Sale 16
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The Independent Online
Spare a thought for Richard Hill as he starts his working week this Monday morning. He used to be a players' player from the bottom of his studs to the close of his close-cropped head, always with his Bath or England sleeves rolled up, always standing firm against fierce attack. The bigger the opposition, the tougher he looked.

On Saturday after the game, it was very different. Hill looked downcast and woebegone. With two defeats in two league games, Gloucester's director of rugby is finding that the real pressure has started. After suffering the 75-point thrashing against Harlequins, he jettisoned his policy of keeping his strongest side for targeted, weaker teams. It was pointed out to him by the money men who now run rugby that they had to sell season tickets, and that meant bums on seats in every game, not just in those deemed important dog-fights.

Sale were exactly one of those sides Gloucester needed to beat at home if Hill was to be seen as a success by the directors (as rugby clubs now have). After Saturday's defeat, you felt for him; the angst was visible. Was he enjoying life these days? "I enjoy the week where we're out training," he said, "but the weekend I don't enjoy. It's going to be a long, hard road."

The road is about to get noticeably harder, with games against Bath, Leicester and Wasps on successive weeks. Hill said on Saturday: "I'm new at it myself and it's hard work. I've got to learn to cope. The team is learning. It will get better." Some fast learning will be needed.

Hill's admirable policy was to rely on young, often local, players rather than flash the cheque book for the stars. On Saturday, Gloucester looked as though they needed one of those big-name, big-cheque players to pull the youngsters together. They did, though, show guts and translated some pressure into four penalties from the outside-half, Mark Mapletoft, who showed the odd touch of imagination and colour - not least in his bright red hair, dyed, no doubt, to show commitment to the cherry red of Gloucester. The full-back Chris Catling, at 20 years of age, is one of Hill's bright young things. He showed immense promise, particularly under the high ball, which he fielded fearlessly.

It was not enough to break Sale, directed though not captained by Dewi Morris, who is just the kind of old, strong head Gloucester need. Not that Sale were brilliant, with their single try scored when the hooker Steve Diamond was driven over from a maul. The replacement Adam Griffin converted and kicked three further penalties.

Richard Hill's difficulty is that in commercial, professional sport, tolerance is minimal. Patience is short - indeed, some of the Gloucester crowd were streaming out on Saturday before the game was decided.

Feel for Hill this morning. Pressure on the field is one thing; pressure off it, in a tough, commercial business, is quite another.

Gloucester: Penalties Mapletoft 4. Sale: Try Diamond; Conversion: Griffin; Penalties Griffin 3.

Gloucester: C Catling; E Anderson, A Saverimutto, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Simms (capt), P Glanville, S Devereaux, A Stanley. Replacement: S Edwards for Stanley, 82.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Devereaux, M Birt, T Beim; J Baxendell, D Morris; P Smith, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D O'Grady, C Vyvyan, A Morris. Replacement: A Griffin for Birt, 9.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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