Rugby Union: Mannix manages to hold his nerve

ALLIED DUNBAR PREMIERSHIP Gloucester win with last kick of game while a young Tiger and an old Springbok show how to dominate the game from stand-off
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Gloucester 22 Saracens 19

IN A dramatic climax to a riveting match Simon Mannix clinched victory for Gloucester and second place in the Allied Dunbar Premiership table with the last kick of the game in the fourth minute of injury time.

It was just as well. If the New Zealander had missed it, as he had an identical one right in front of the posts some 20 minutes earlier, then the hordes of delirious home fans might well have turned into a lynch mob.

His nerve held thankfully, but if anything happens to him Gloucester could be in a mess. In all he scored 17 points, on the way passing the 100 mark for the season in the Premiership. He only made one appearance for the All Blacks, against France in 1994, but he certainly had his moments. But without him there is no cover at Gloucester, which is why Philippe Saint-Andre, Gloucester's director of rugby, will be speaking to the Llanelli fly-half Byron Hayward today or tomorrow. The player was at Kingsholm yesterday to watch the match.

"We need a utility back," Saint-Andre explained, "someone who can play at stand-off or full-back and can kick goals. I will be speaking to him this week."

That Mannix penalty was the 32nd and final one of a match that did not deserve so many stoppages, but despite the persistence of the referee, John Barnard, the 9,000 or so crammed into Kingsholm were treated to some pulsating and dynamic rugby from both sides.

Gloucester were particularly abrasive, with the ball carriers often knocking back their tacklers some two or three metres before hitting the deck. The home front-row thundered over the turf like a herd of bullocks from the outset. The England prop Phil Vickery and loose-head Trevor Woodman were a real handful.

But Saracens were not be out-done. The wily old wildebeest Francois Pienaar was a often a one-man stampede himself and Saracens looked in control of the scrums in the first half, as a couple of bouts of temper in the front rows bore witness. But Gloucester improved their performance at the set-piece after the interval.

The driving mauls were textbook quality and Saracens established a comfortable cushion through one late in the first half when Bill Davison was shoved over from a line-out. Fly-half Thierry Lacroix, who became the new holder of the Premiership record for penalties with nine last week, converted the try.

In 31 years and 17 attempts Saracens have never won a thing at Kingsholm, their best being a couple of draws, but they did get very close and will be kicking themselves for some of the errors they made, including letting in winger Tom Beim for a well-executed try on the hour.

Lacroix's three earlier penalties and a fourth eight minutes into the second half rocked the Gloucester self-belief for a while and had established a seven-point lead which was beginning to look more like a chasm than a gap until some outstanding work at a line-out by Vickery, Rob Fidler and Kingsley Jones set up the platform for the move.

Mannix sent out a long delayed pass and Beim raced on to the ball, sliced right leaving the Saracens defence a fluttering mess and ran around to touch down near the posts.

"It was one we had worked on for the last three weeks in training," explained Saint-Andre, "but it was the first time it had been tried in a match."

It brought Gloucester level at 19-19 and the crowd to its feet. Thereafter Saracens were smashed on to the back foot as the home side stormed upfield a seething, broiling mass of red shirts. They were rewarded with a penalty under the posts the one that Mannix fluffed. The Saracens defence held very firm and they even set up Lacroix for a drop goal attempt in the 78th minute. The ball sailed wide.

When the Londoners rumbled up again Chris Catling put in a monster tackle on the Saracens scrum-half Nick Walshe, who had posed problems throughout, before Gloucester worked themselves back up to the opposition line and won that penalty.

Gloucester: Try Beim; Conversion Mannix; Penalties Mannix 5. Saracens: Try Davison; Conversion Lacroix; Penalties Lacroix 4.

Gloucester: R Tombs (R Jewell, 72); C Catling, J Ewens, C Yates, T Beim; S Mannix, E Moncrieff; T Woodman, C Fortey, P Vickery, R Fidler, M Cornwell, S Ojomoh, E Pearce, K Jones (capt).

Saracens: R Thirlby; R Constable, J Thomson (T Shanklin, 67), K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; T Lacroix, N Walshe; R Grau, G Chuter, J White (P Wallace, 34), B Davison (S Murray, 52), D Grewcock, R Hill, T Diprose, F Pienaar (capt).

Referee: J Barnard (Driffield).