To the watching masses of home supporters there were times when this looked very much like a case of a death wish among the Gloucester players. Indiscipline in the first half cost them a match that for long periods they fully deserved to win and, more important, a place in next month's Cup final at Twickenham.
That Gloucester should have surrendered so much of their excellent work was bad enough, but to allow themselves to be picked off by probably the best kicker of a ball in the world today was sheer madness. Joel Stransky finished the game with 21 points from five penalties and two drop goals and seldom can he have been given more opportunities to demonstrate his undoubted class than yesterday.
From the kick-off when Mark Mapletoft, his opposite number, drilled the ball straight to him, allowing the South African the time and the space to bang the ball 40 yards downfield into touch, to the two priceless drop goals in as many minutes late in the game, Stransky oozed class.
It was wonderfully reminiscent of days gone by. The Shed was packed to overflowing, the wit and banter was constant and continuous and the ferociously partisan crowd roared in blinkered appreciation of their beloved Gloucester and in baying disapproval of the opposition and, for most of the time, of the referee Steve Lander, who was not the most popular figure.
Gloucester gained in strength throughout the match, and the fact that Leicester's famed continuity between back row and half-backs so often broke down was tribute to Gloucester's planning and tackling.
Gloucester's defence around the fringes was of the highest order but it was their supremacy in the line-out which contributed to one of the most uncomfortable afternoons the Leicester pack have experienced for a long time. If Martin Johnson just about held on to his dignity at the front of the line-out, Neil Fletcher was taken apart by the Gloucester captain Dave Sims in the middle. This meant that Leicester had to throw long to Eric Miller at the tail and although Miller is one of the most athletic forwards in the game he was often at a loss to get anywhere near Richard Cockerill's ill-judged throws.
On top of this, Gloucester's backs were infinitely more penetrative and imaginative with the ball in their hands than their opposite numbers who, for the most part, were predictable and leaden-footed by comparison. To make matters worse their alignment in midfield was so horribly askew, with Stuart Potter unaccountably being sucked infield, that Gloucester found acres of space wide out. Once their backs had cottoned on to this fact, Mapletoft and his threequarters made much of their freedom and having threatened Leicester's defence on a number of occasions in the first half broke through early in the second to set up a stirring climax.
With Gloucester trailing 12-3, Craig Emmerson turned Leicester's disorientated backs one way, then the other, before being carried towards the line on the full tide of the Gloucester support. It was a close call whether it Emmerson himself who got the touchdown or whether it was Carter or Chris Catling, who was eventually credited with the score. No one on the ground cared a hoot either way.
With Mapletoft converting, it brought Gloucester to within two points and for the first time in the match Leicester were thoroughly rattled. Stransky kicked his fifth penalty and Mapletoft his second to keep the margin to two points going into the final quarter.
Then two things happened. First, but not alas for the last time, Phil Greening, Gloucester's combative hooker, threw away valuable possession to Neil Back who raised the siege. And then Leicester brought on the old warrior Dean Richards to bring some much-needed stability and tactical common sense to a game which was in danger of careering out of control.
Mapletoft's drop goal attempt drifted wide, Leicester moved upfield and Stransky, with the calm assurance of one who has won a World Cup final by the same means dropped not just one goal but two in the space of two minutes to win the match and put Leicester into the final for the 10th time. Steve Hackney's try, two minutes from the end, merely added insult to the injury which Gloucester had brought on themselves.
Gloucester: C Catling; M Peters, C Emmerson, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, S Devereux, N Carter (A Stanley, 18-23).
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney (L Lloyd, 78), W Greenwood, S Potter, C Joiner; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), N Fletcher, J Wells (D Richards, 63), E Miller, N Back.
Referee: S Lander (RFU).Reuse content