Rugby Union: Gloucester shed past to hand out capital punishment

Commentary: Gloucester 26 Richmond 20
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The Independent Online
The times they are a-changin', not least in deepest, dirtiest Gloucester. Contemporary Kingsholm is quite a picture with its electronic scoreboards, big-screen action replays and bustling hospitality boxes; even The Shed, where men are men and visiting forwards are despised as namby-pamby ponces, has grown more brutally commercial in its insults. Where regulars would once dispense helpful snippets of local wisdom - there used to be a notice on the old wooden stand, warning opposing players: "For your own protection, don't lie on the ball" - they now content themselves with a few dozen choruses of: "What a waste of money."

Gloucester has always been an unfussy, blue-collar kind of rugby town and although professionalism has taken an icy stranglehold on the Cherry and White lifestyle, the locals remain fiercely defensive of their bargain- basement approach to recruitment. Flash London sides tend to get it in the neck; Saracens are already well used to being serenaded in the latest style - Francois Pienaar took the brunt of the Shedheads' collective derision when he first set foot in the wild west last season - and, on Saturday, another capital club received the full monty. Every time one of Richmond's nouveau riche internationals found himself being speared into the turf, the same cry swelled from the bowels of the most unforgiving stretch of rugby terracing left in the game.

Yet Richard Hill, the hard-working Gloucester coach, is piecing together his own platoon of mercenaries; there is not a single born-and-bred Gloucester type in the back division - an Aussie and a South Sea Islander, yes, but no-one from Longlevens or Coney Hill - and now that Steve Ojomoh, the former England loose forward, has agreed to make the short hop from Bath, the pack is going the same way. By the end of the season, only four local products - Tony Windo, Rob Fidler, Dave Sims and the captain, Pete Glanville - will be able to count themselves undisputed first-choices.

What is more, Hill still has a shopping list tucked away: "I'd say we were two players short of where I want us to be and, although I probably won't be buying again this season, I know what we're looking for and I'll move when the time is right," said the England A coach after watching his side put a few nautical miles of clear water between themselves and the play-off candidates with their third Premiership victory of the season.

Gloucester die-hards may still blanch at the thought of throwing squillions at the transfer market but with Tom Walkinshaw's bank account and a steady 10,000-plus gate to support them, they are better placed than most for a New Year shopping spree.

Richmond, meanwhile, have probably spent everything they had to spend and for all the exotic potential of their Argentinians and Antipodeans, not to mention half a dozen anglicised Welshmen with a track record of achievement, they have not quite hit the button. The fact that they were bullied out of an earthy contention by Windo, Sims, Glanville and the distinctly useful Phil Vickery underlined what bread-and-butter Gloucester folk have always known in their hearts: that there is more to this professional lark than the size of the wad in your pay packet.

"For the first time in ages, I saw our heads go down," conceded John Kingston, the Richmond coach. "We looked as though we'd had enough after four games inside a fortnight and, apart from 10-minute periods at the start and finish, we seemed to have nowhere to go. Gloucester were organised and very competitive, we were disorganised and confused." In an age of vacuous manager-speak - at this rate, rugby bosses will soon be wearing sheepskin coats and an entire diamond mine on each finger - it was as blunt an admission of failure as anyone has delivered all season.

When Barry Williams, the pick of a curiously half-baked Richmond pack, finished an eighth-minute move of the highest quality to score to the left of the Gloucester posts - Scott Quinnell spent most of the afternoon running up blind alleys but his pass to free Jim Fallon was perfection itself - the visitors looked comfortable. They fancied it, too; Scott's brother Craig had already been yellow-carded for a stamp and, looking at the sheer size of the Londoners' pack, few would have backed against them in a scrap.

Yet Gloucester had only to flex their muscles briefly to regain their grasp on proceedings, the gloriously hostile Western Samoan centre Terry Fanolua making the line courtesy of a raw-boned forward rumble and a cleverly delayed pass from the excellent Chris Catling. Two Mark Mapletoft penalties and a sharp Brian Johnson strike later, Richmond were staring down both barrels at 8-16.

It did not get much easier after the break, either. Simon Mason, out of favour and out of luck, miscued what would have been a galvanising penalty from 20 metres a quarter-of-an-hour into the second half, and Mapletoft's third successful goal was quickly improved upon by Audley Lumsden's joyful romp down the right touchline, Fanolua having performed the Open Sesame duties with a tackle-busting quickstep from a Richmond turn-over.

Late tries from Allan Bateman, unusually quiet in midfield, and Jim Fallon gave the visitors a glimmer and it will not have escaped Hill's notice that his half-backs, Mapletoft and Scott Benton, remain clumsily inept when it comes to closing out a match. That, though, can be corrected. Whether Kingston can solve Richmond's most pressing problem, namely that, unless the Quinnells get the run of the park, the whole side stutters and splutters to an eventual halt, is another matter entirely.

Gloucester: Tries Fanolua, Johnson, Lumsden; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalties Mapletoft 2. Richmond: Tries Williams, Bateman, Fallon; Conversion Mason; Penalty Mason.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson (R Jewell, 55), T Fanolua, R Tombs, A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, N McCarthy (C Fortey, 20), P Vickery, M Cornwell, D Sims, P Glanville (capt), S Devereux, N Carter.

Richmond: S Mason; J Wright, A Bateman, M Hutton, J Fallon; M Pini, A Pichot; D Crompton, B Willians, J Davies, C Quinnell, C Gilles, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell, R Hutton (R Martin, 25).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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