Rugby Union: Gloucester dreaming of glory

Gloucester 18 Bristol 12

If anyone else had suggested it the first reaction would have been to laugh. "Gloucester could become the Manchester United of rugby." But when that claim was made by Gareth Chilcott, people nodded sagely.

There is logic in what the former Bath and England prop said. He is now a successful businessman and his firm, which is managing the West Country club's commercial affairs, has sailed past the financial targets Gloucester set at the start of the season.

Chilcott was speaking after Gloucester's rugged, error-strewn Pilkington Cup sixth-round tie against ailing Bristol. "They have a long way to go, but they could be a huge club. Gloucester have the stadium, the crowds and a huge catchment area," he said.

There is no doubt that Gloucester are improving. This was their eighth Cup and League win in a row, and they could soon be on the fringes of Europe. Richard Hill, a former club-mate and international colleague of Chilcott, is director of rugby, and judging by what he says, the club has more in common with Old Trafford than its colours.

"This is the most passionate rugby city in England," Hill said. "There is an intense, hard core, working class support. The supporters are fanatical. Kingsholm, unlike other grounds, is in the heart of the city and rugby is Gloucester's life blood."

But he is concentrating on more immediate concerns. "There is no point staying up this season if we then find ourselves struggling next year. We should be looking for mid-table respectability next season," he said, "and after that, to challenging for the title and a place in Europe. This squad is good enough to keep us in the First Division, but we probably need two or three top quality players for next year.

It is unlikely that Hill will be looking for many forwards. The front row scrummaged superbly against Bristol. As usual, Gloucester's Phil Greening put himself about as well as performing his regular duties. And there was the talented youngster, Nathan carter Carter, first to the breakdown time and again.

Out wide, the Gloucester backs made fewer errors in a match which reduced all 30 players at one time or another into inept handlers and carriers. Bristol were guilty particularly of losing the ball, which put them under needless pressure. It is difficult to see what they can do to stop their slide. Gloucester may be dreaming when likening themselves to Manchester United, but Bristol's plight is a nightmare.

Gloucester: Tries Deacon, Benton; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalties Mapletoft 2. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 4

Gloucester: C Catling; M Peters, D Caskie, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), E Pearce, N Carter, S Devereux.

Bristol: P Hull; D Tiueti, S Martin, K Maggs, B Breeze; M Tainton, R Jones; A Sharp (B McConnell, 40), M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw (P Adams, 43-49), C Eagle, M Corry (capt), D Corkery, E Rollitt.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).

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