Rugby Union: Bristol wide of the mark

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Gloucester. .19

Bristol. . . 17

A MILD autumnal afternoon at Kingsholm, made for better things than worrying about promotion and relegation. But bizarre as it is to consider them even before the clocks had been put back, the Courage National League One is so small and yet so polarised, that they were bound to be an issue here. In the football leagues you can make a botch of it before Christmas but still come back in the New Year. In the Courage there are no second chances.

All the same, the tension made for a wonderfully exciting match with Bristol, lying third in the table at the start, trailing by 10 or so points for over an hour and then just failing to recover sufficiently to snatch the win in the 80th minute as they had the chance to do. And the result was just as critical for Gloucester in the relegation zone - possibly the turning point in the season.

From the start the West Country camaraderie was represented by a good deal of baring of fangs whenever the forwards faced up to each other. But it was Gloucester who disengaged long enough to score the opening try.

They moved it rapidly to the left where the new man, Lee Osborne, was bundled out just short of the Bristol line. That relief was shortlived. The Gloucester lock Dave Sims broke through the line-out afterwards for a surprisingly unhampered try. Mark Mapletoft converted and shortly afterwards kicked a penalty to put Gloucester 10 points up in 13 minutes, which was not according to script.

Mark Tainton pulled back three points for Bristol with a penalty, but Mapletoft cancelled that out with another which was only a poor return for a period of Gloucester pressure. Tainton's second penalty before the interval was another contradiction of the general play.

Gloucester began the second half as though the grisly dissection of Bristol would continue at the same pace. But then, after Mapletoft had taken his customary rake-off with a third penalty, Gloucester found themselves rocked back on their heels as Bristol attacked down the right.

What followed was simply another exchange of penalties with spirited mauling and running met by desperate last tackles. After an hour the only substantial difference between the sides was Gloucester's converted try in the seventh minute.

With 12 minutes to go, Bristol conjured up a try to compare, Ralph Knibbs and Tainton setting off a sweeping movement which the forwards took on. Just when it seemed to die with Kyran Bracken and the ball gone to ground, Derek Eves retrieved it to dart over close to the corner. Tainton could not convert, but did manage a fourth penalty with six minutes to go, narrowing Gloucester's lead to two points.

Those minutes produced the fastest, most thrilling passages of the game but no further score. Just an opportunity for Tainton to win the game for Bristol with the final kick. Alas for the poor chap, he just pushed his penalty wide.

Gloucester: M Mapletoft; P Holford, S Morris, B Maslen, L Osborne; M Kimber, B Fenley; P Jones, D Kearsey, A Deacon (capt), D Sims, R West, M Teague, I Smith, C Raymond.

Bristol: P Hull; D John, R Knibbs, D Wring, G Sharp; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, C Barrow, I Patten, D Eves (capt).

Referee: A J Spreadbury (Bristol).