Rugby Union: Hill cheered as Gloucester make most of fighting qualities

Bristol 13 Gloucester 14
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The Independent Online
Recent weeks have seen mixed fortunes for Bristol with the sale of their ground easing their financial plight, while their shock cup defeat to Worcester, a team two divisions lower emphasised their inadequacies on the field.

Sadly, in the new professional era money prevails rather than tradition and Bristol are short of the former. Relegation is a real possibility, with only London Irish below them, and trying to attract finance in the lower league would prove a challenge. There can be no doubting their passion, however, and a West Country derby against Gloucester could have been the catalyst to kick-start a season that has so far seen only two league victories.

Gloucester have suffered themselves this season with the continuing unavailability of Philippe Saint-Andre. Yet they have assumed many of the characteristics of their coach, Richard Hill.

Cheered on by their travelling supporters they proved the stronger side but needed the battling qualities so reminiscent of Hill to hang on to their one-point lead, although the appalling conditions dictated a low- scoring game.

At the start of the first half Gloucester dominated, particularly in the scrum where they were clearly a better organised and more powerful unit. Rob Fidler would have impressed the watching England coach, Clive Woodward, with his catching in the line-out and it was from a Fidler catch and drive that Gloucester scored in the ninth minute.

This dominance in the forwards, along with the appalling weather conditions, hindered Bristol to such an extent that they only managed two forays into the Gloucester half in the first 20 minutes, and poor handling saw them turn the ball over on each occasion. But their defence stood firm as Gloucester used the wind and their strength, and when the ball was released the Gloucester centres, Richard Tombs and Terry Fanolua, threatened with surging breaks. Typically for a Western Samoan, Fanolua was difficult to bring down but the Bristol defence never wavered from their task.

Cheered every time they entered the Gloucester half, Bristol actually took the lead in the 37th minute. Despite the worsening conditions, a succession of passes and a jinking run by the impressive Josh Lewsey gave Paul Burke an opening in front of the posts. His deft grubber kick flat- footed Gloucester and a late tackle on Burke ensured a penalty try was awarded.

Mark Mapletoft kicked three points to give Gloucester an 8-7 lead at the interval and added another three eight minutes into the second half. Burke responded with two penalties as Bristol found a rhythm and they looked set for a much-needed win with 20 minutes remaining.

It was now that Hill bought on Steve Ojomoh and the England A player David Sims and their fresh legs and ability to drive over the gain line forced Gloucester back up field. A further Mapletoft penalty gave the visitors the one-point lead that separated the teams at the end.

As Hill said later: "Eight- seven up at half-time should not have been enough but we had a very good ball retention and excellent discipline. We allowed Burke very few penalties to kick and Ajomoh and Sims gave us an extra drive."

Bristol: Tries Penalty; Conversion Burke; Penalties Burke 2. Gloucester: Try Fidler; Penalties Mapletoft 3.

Bristol: J Lewsey; K Maggs, P Hull, A Larkin, D Yapp; . Burke, R Jones; M Worsley, F Landreau, K Fullman, C Eagle, T Devergie S Pearce (E Rollitt, 69), J Brownrigg, C Short.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo (A Powels, 22), C Forty, P Vickery, R Fidler, M Cornwell (D Sims, 63), P Glanville, S Devereux (S Ojomoh, 63), N. Carter.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).