Rugby Union: Saint-Andre on fire

Gloucester 38 Beziers 17
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The Independent Online
It has been alleged that the European Conference, the second division of European club rugby, is destined to go the way of other lower grade competitions and dwindle into insignificance. Just as the English county and divisional championships never captured the popular imagination, so the conference would fail to ignite passion.

It is not so. At Kingsholm yesterday the English faced the fighting French and came out victorious. In the end, solid English method doused Gallic fire. There was enough beef in the Gloucester pack to bullock through and punch holes in the Beziers defence for the backs to sail through for four tries. Gloucester were simply a better side - slicker and stronger, more disciplined, and better able to retain possession.

The full-back Chris Catling crossed once and Gloucester's resident French winger Philippe Saint-Andre crossed twice. The outside-half Mark Mapletoft got the fourth try to add to three conversions and four penalties.

Beziers retaliated with a couple of tries but, strangely, only after they were weakened when the referee Brian Stirling sent off their international flanker Alain Carimati for stamping. In what seemed a characteristically French manner in this competition, he was reluctant to leave the park, remonstrating with the officials throughout the long walk to the dressing- room. His protests, though, were to no avail and he duly received a 60- day ban after the game.

Some 4,500 watched yesterday's game, half the turn-out for the biggest English league games, but still a respectable gate, on a par with those for routine league games at Kingsholm.

Gloucester need a points-rich victory against Padua next week to make the quarter-finals. That might convince the sceptics that the competition is here to stay and will generate more interest and even more passion. It is the Anglo-French contests which provide the real spice and seem to bring out primitive feelings, no doubt going back to Agincourt.

Gloucester had complained that stones were thrown at some of their supporters when they had travelled to the south of France. Yesterday's retort on the pitch was effective retaliation.

Gloucester: C Catling; R Saint-Andre, T Sanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre (A Lumsden, 67); M Mapletoft (N Osman, 70), I Sanders; T Windo, N McCarthy, P Vickery, R Fidler, M Cornwell, P Glanville (Capt), N Carter, E Pearce.

Beziers: J Laharrague; M Mailhe, J Viard, C Gratien, P Buffevant; L Mercier, P Mignomi (Capt); J-F Pedesseau, C Garcia, C Soulettes, P Gras, C Viliplana, G Belzons, A Carminati, S Lalugue.

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).