Baffling Leeds hang on for win

Leeds 22 Gloucester 18
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The Independent Online

Leeds continue to confuse and confound. Their season has been a parable of uncertainty. They have been victorious where they were expected to lose and have lost elsewhere against most expectations. Yesterday at Headingley there was only one certainty, and that was the appearance of the Leeds hooker, Mark Regan, parading the Webb Ellis Cup as it continues its journey around the country.

Not that Gloucester have much to shout about. Their season has not fulfilled its early promise, and for much of this match they were an absolute shambles.

Their director of rugby, Nigel Meville, was not dispensing any Christmas cheer afterwards. "We were happy to turn round just four points behind," he said. "There was a strong wind out there and we had to play into the teeth of it in the first half. But our second-half performance was a disappointment, and we were chasing the game from the restart."

Indeed, Gloucester were fortunate to be only a score adrift at half-time. They had displayed nothing more imaginative than lethargy, and were indebted to Henry Paul for kicking four penalties from five attempts, while Leeds were kicking themselves for not finishing the plethora of attacking chances they created.

Except one. Leeds secured a line-out deep in Gloucester's half, and from there Matt Holt was driven over for the try, Gordon Ross converted and Leeds took the lead, cancelling out Paul's first two penalties.

Robert Todd then made an awful hash of attempting to clear a delicate chip ahead by Andre Snyman. The Leeds forwards piled in, a brawl ensued, and Jake Boer was on the end of a lengthy lecture from the referee, Dave Pearson, and was fortunate not to be yellow-carded.

Not so fortunate was Junior Paramore, who earned the referee's displeasure at the tackle to halt Ross's slashing break, and was sin-binned for his misdemeanour. This gave Ross the opportunity to kick his third penalty and take Leeds into a 16-6 lead. But Paul's intervention with two more penalties cut the deficit to more manageable proportions.

Another Paul penalty pulled it back to a single point but Leeds, having lost four of their last five Premiership games, were not to be denied.

As their coach, Jon Callard, said: "The nice thing is that we are creating things. And our defence was very spirited." Paul did keep Gloucester in the frame, before a record Headingley crowd of 7,467, with two more penalties. But Ross responded in kind and Leeds held on in a frantic finish.

Leeds: Try Holt. Conversion Ross. Penalties Ross 5. Gloucester: Penalties Paul 6.

Leeds: D Scarbrough; D Rees (M Cardey, 3), A Snyman, T Davies, P Christophers; G Ross, C Stuart-Smith; M Shelley, M Holt, G Powell, P Murphy, S Hooper (T Palmer, 71), M Salter, J Ponton (D Hyde, 71), A Popham.

Gloucester: T Delport; M Garvey, R Todd (J Simpson-Daniel, 79), H Paul, T Fanolua; D McRae, A Gomarsall; R Roncero, C Fortey, A Deacon, A Eustace (M Cornwell, 68), A Brown, J Boer (capt), P Buxton, J Paramore.

Referee: D Pearson (Ashington).