Rugby Union: Hill the driving force

Northampton 25 Gloucester 27
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The Independent Online
Tom Walkinshaw has not said as much since he took control of Gloucester on Tuesday with a cash injection of pounds 2.5m, but part of his reasoning must have been that he sees in Richard Hill many of the qualities which persuaded him to attract Damon Hill to his Arrows Formula One racing team.

The Hills have much in common. Both are driven by success, prepared to learn from their mistakes and know how to get the best from the teams they work with. Richard Hill, with the sparest of resources before Walkinshaw's arrival at Kingsholm, was quick to acknowledge his primary error in fielding a second team at Harlequins on the opening day of the season when they were thrashed 75-19. Four further losses followed to leave Gloucester at the foot of the table along with Orrell.

Since those uncertain days, Hill has dragged Gloucester off the floor. His unheralded side, bereft of stars, are blessed with the unrehearsed pragmatism and stubborn team-work which has not only renewed their self- respect but lifted Gloucester to mid-table respectability.

Throughout an entertaining match at Franklin's Gardens, when nothing much was at stake but where the lead changed hands eight times, Gloucester played most of the rugby, scored two brilliant tries and deserved to win, although it looked as if they would be denied by some eccentric refereeing, the end product of which was a contentious penalty try, awarded for a deliberate knock-on, and Alastair Hepher's six penalties.

Chris Catling put Gloucester on track with a stunning try, by finishing off a sweeping move. Audley Lumsden got the second, turning Hepher inside out on his way to helping Hill's charges into a 15-6 lead after only 20 minutes.

Helped by the penalty try and Hepher's three first-half penalties Northampton were 16-15 up at the break, which soon became 19-15 when Hepher struck again. Mark Mapletoft restored Gloucester's advantage with 12 minutes of the second half played with two more penalties.

Wherever Northampton tried to break Gloucester down they were met with ferociously sure tackling. Despite the quality of some of the back play it seemed the outcome would be decided by the kickers. Twice more the lead changed as Hepher and Mapletoft remained on target.

Then Mapletoft with a superb kick and chase looked to have settled it. But somehow Saints cleared the danger. Mapletoft had the last word to settle things with his fifth penalty in a breathlessly exciting final quarter.

Northampton: I Hunter (capt; R McNaughton, 46); C Moir (H Thorneycroft, 72), J Bell, M Allen, B Cohen; A Hepher, B Taylor (J Bramall, 50); M Volland, T Beddow (A Clarke, 50), M Stewart, J Phillips, M Bayfield (S Barnes, 55), S Foale, G Selley, J Cassell.

Gloucester: C Catling; A Lumsden, C Emmerson, A Saverimutto, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, L Beck; T Windo, J Hawker (T Woodman, 40), A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, S Devereux, N Carter (A Stanley, 70).

Referee: C Reeks (Bath).