RUGBY UNION: Gloucester grateful for their Gallic connection

Gloucester 23 Bridgend 6
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THE GALLIC influence cannot be denied at Gloucester. For so long one of the most insular of clubs, rarely straying beyond the county boundaries to unearth new talent, these days they are at the forefront of a movement that is uniting nations and tapping resources from Samoa, Morocco and France.

Much of that credit must go to Philippe Saint-Andre, their coach, who has just committed himself to a further two years at Kingsholm, and if Gloucester carry on as they have been doing, the former France wing could well find himself canonised and adopted by the close-knit rugby community in these parts.

This morning the cherry-and-whites are top of their particular heap in Europe, Pool Six of the Shield. Saint-Andre is not wild about the tournament - "It offers us nothing if we win it, no prize money, no place in the Heineken Cup" - nevertheless it does offer him the chance to test the mettle of his squad.

"What matters most to us is the Allied Dunbar Premiership," he reaffirmed. "That is the only way into the European Cup and that is where we want to be, so we are concentrating on finishing in the top four."

They have made a good start; they also happen to be top of that particular heap, although if they lose their focus in the Premiership, as they did against a lacklustre and unimaginative Bridgend on Saturday, then they will find it a struggle. The side began well, and by half time had run in three tries, a couple of them absolute crackers.

But they finished rather less brightly. Thankfully the "shadow" side was still able to maintain a comfortable distance between itself and the opposition chiefly thanks to some magnificent defensive work when Bridgend burst their shackles briefly.

Among the shades being given a run-out was the England tighthead prop Phil Vickery, who has finally shaken off a troublesome groin injury which flared up during the World Cup and was aggravated when he resumed club duties.

But even fully fit, as he asserts he now is, Vickery cannot expect to walk straight back into the side. "I still have to work hard to get back into the Gloucester team. No player is guaranteed their place in the side," he said, "And that has to be a good thing, to have pressure on places. No position is safe."

Saint-Andre knows the players need rest as much as they need matches, and is keeping them lean on the sidelines until they are snapping to get on, when they are unleashed. This could prove a dogged side, and however well they do in Europe, with such snarling pack of game-starved players they will pose a real threat in the Premiership.

Gloucester: Tries Ewens, Cornwell, Johnson; Conversion Fanolua; Penalties Fanolua 2. Bridgend: Penalties P Williams 2.

Gloucester: T Fanolua; B Johnson, R Jewell (C Yates, 77), J Ewens (C Catling, 33), T Glassie; R Tombs, L Beck; A Powles (P Vickery, 65-70), N McCarthy, P Vickery (S Sanchez, 52), A Eustace, M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt), E Pearce (R Ward, 52), J Djoudi.

Bridgend: A Durston; O Thomas, J Funnell (L Davies, 59), J Devereux, D de Caux (A Jenkins, 79); P Williams, S Wake; D Francis, A Joy (G Thomas, 79), T Taumoupau (C Ferris, 59), O Lloyd (capt), P Clapham (C Bugen, 79), C Davies (R Webster, 41), A Williams, M Molitika.

Referee: M McEwan (Scotland).