Mapletoft makes the difference

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The Independent Online
Gloucester 18

Bristol 14

MARK MAPLETOFT, playing his first league game of an injury-ravaged season, kicked relegation-threatened Gloucester to a vital derby win after coming on as a second-half replacement against Bristol yesterday.

Mapletoft danced a joyful jig after landing the second of two long-range penalty goals which decided a passionate, if error- riddled, contest at Kingsholm. Come the season's end his contribution might just have made all the difference. It might not matter - it is still not clear whether there is to be relegation from League One. But Gloucester were taking no chances. Richard Hill, their coach, said emphatically: "It was a must-win game for us."

Mapletoft deserved his moment of glory in a season of frustration, following knee-ligament surgery, and his late contribution did the whole game a favour amid dismal play from both sides.

Mistakes abounded as the lead changed hands no less than seven times. With 10 minutes remaining and Bristol leading 14-12, Gloucester looked destined for their 11th loss in 14 league games.

It was then Mapletoft, a 49th-minute replacement for fullback Gareth Fenwick, came to the home side's rescue by rifling over two kicks, each from over 40 metres, to spark wild celebration in a much relieved crowd.

In the first half Bristol, bereft of the England forwards Mark Regan and Garath Archer, were gifted countless turnovers. The visitors claimed the game's one try on their very first attack when the fly-half Arwel Thomas popped up on the short side to carve an opening for wing Gavin Sharp in the left corner. But from then on their performance was marred by poorly judged calls.

Gloucester went ahead for the first time in the opening minute of the second half, when Fenwick landed his third penalty goal and, although Bristol twice wrested back the lead, Gloucester had in Mapletoft a match- winner waiting in the wings.

Gloucester: G Fenwick (M Mapletoft, 49); M Peters, D Cummins, M Roberts, P Holford; M Kimber, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler (C Gibson, 75), D Sims (capt), P Glanville, A Stanley, C Raymond.

Bristol: P Hull (capt); B Breeze, S Martin, K Maggs, G Sharp; A Thomas, K Bracken; A Sharp, A Lathorpe, D Hinkins, M Corry, M Fountaine, E Rollitt, C Barrow, J Pearson.

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).