Rugby Union: Big step for Gloucester

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The Independent Online
Richmond 22 Gloucester 25

IT HAS taken Mark Mapletoft just two Allied Dunbar Premiership matches in which to underline to Clive Woodward, the England coach, the qualities he can bring to the fly-half berth.

What Mapletoft can do is direct operations and from time to time take matters into his own hands. He did so at Reading on Saturday where he directed Gloucester to that rarest of feats, an away league win. They had arrived at the Madejski Stadium with just seven wins from their last 31 away trips.

"This was a massive game for us," admitted Richard Hill, their director of rugby. "Last week Richmond beat Newcastle here. Now we have beaten Richmond. Once you start to beat the big sides you view things differently. This was a big step for the club."

They needed a helping hand and they got it. First of all Ben Clarke injured his left shoulder following a shuddering Steve Ojomoh tackle in the 28th minute which consigned the Richmond captain to the sidelines.

Then late in the second half when they had begun to bite back came the final double whammy that drained them of resolve, or at least the ability to turn that resolve into points. Two moments of indiscipline saw Craig Quinnell and Barry Williams sent to the sin-bin after illegal footwork and a punch respectively.

Richmond managed to score a try in that spell but there were just not enough personnel to do more than contain.

Gloucester were glorious in defence throughout, even when being outplayed in the first half during which time they lost Ojomoh to the sin-bin for killing the ball after making that huge hit on Clarke.

But Richmond's handling was sloppy at times, they spilled ball on contact and turned over possession. Chances went begging and any infringement simply invited Mapletoft to use either his boot or his consummate skill on the ball to keep Gloucester's noses in front.

Having been overlooked for the disastrous summer tour Mapletoft is phlegmatic about his England chances. "I have to play well for Gloucester before I can be considered and if I am not picked for the full England side so be it. But I am still ambitious. I want to play for my country either at A level or higher."

For Mapletoft his present run of form is testament to his resilience and character. The summer began with England rejection and another blow swiftly followed when Gloucester announced they had signed the former All Black fly-half Simon Mannix from Sale but Mapletoft revealed a maturity and insight that should ensure a very together Gloucester side recording more victories away from home.

Richmond: Tries Bateman, Quinnell, Cuthbert; Conversions A Davies 2; Penalty A Davies. Gloucester: Tries Saint-Andre, Mapletoft 2; Conversions Mapletoft 2; Penalties Mapletoft 2.

Richmond: M Pini; S Brown, A Bateman, M Deane, D Chapman; A Davies, A Pichot; D McFarland (J Davies, 47), B Williams, D Crompton, C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Hutton (A Cuthbert, 68), B Clarke (capt; L Cabannes, 28), A Vander.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson (R Jewell, 51), R Tombs, S Mannix, P Saint-Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Woodman (A Windo, 58), N McCarthy (C Fortey, 58), A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), S Ojomoh, S Devereux, N Carter.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).