Bristol 14 Gloucester 12: Late Strange intervention keeps Bristol flying high

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The Independent Online

Down in the west, the boys were saying "tonight's the night" and they were hardly missing the point. The Memorial Stadium was a sell out, the minds focused, teams pumped up and the cameras rolling. Enter the Premiership's pair of table-toppers, local rivalry of the highest order indeed.

All that remained was to decide the winners and what a strange finish it was in every sense. With the last play of the match, and deep in injury time, Bristol answered a 76th minute penalty from Willie Walker with a dramatic drop goal from their substitute fly-half Jason Strange.

Game, set and match, Gloucester knocked from their lofty perch and Bristol up there again as leaders. You could have heard the roar miles away.

Richard Hill, Bristol's head coach, welcomed Gloucester in glowing terms when he said: "They are the best team I have seen so far this season.'' Just in case that sounded too neighbourly, Hill added: "There could be a war of attrition.''

That was more like it.

Hill had been looking at the weather and the wind and the rain was made to measure for those mature bodies in the Bristol pack, at least in the first-half. With only four minutes on the clock, a charge by David Hilton off a lineout set up Brian O'Riordan for a couple of box-kicks, Gloucester getting in a muddle and Neil Brew's dart leading to a try for Mark Regan.

Gloucester were having lineout problems but they had weathered the storm in every sense by the break. David Hill's penalty and drop goal for Bristol was answered by three kicks from Walker, the last two with Rob Higgitt, the Bristol centre, in the sin bin.

The second-half was a long and tedious affair of stop-start rugby. Physios and water carriers abounded and it is high time the nonsense was cut out by the game's authorities. Just to compound everything, the half was almost scoreless, but Walker struck again and then came the drama with that late, late drop.

The last word came from Hill. Talking about Strange, he said: "After each training session we say 'come on Chippy, drop a goal' and he always misses. I thought 'oh, noÕ but he hit that really well. I'm delighted for him."

Bristol: Tries Regan; Penalties Hill; Drop Goals Hill, Strange. Gloucester: Penalties Walker (4).

Bristol: C Morgan, Robinson, Brew, Higgitt (Taumalolo, 65), Lemi, Hill (Strange, 68), O'Riordan, Hilton (Clarke, 36), Regan, Crompton, Winters, Llewellyn (capt), Budgett (To'oala, 65), El Abd, Ward-Smith. Replacements: Blaney, Sambucetti, Nicholls.

Gloucester: Morgan, Bailey, Tindall, Allen, Simpson-Daniel, Walker, Thomas, Wood (Collazo, 50), Azam, Califano (Forster, 70), Eustace, Brown, Buxton (capt), Boer, Narraway (Balding, 50). Replacements: Elloway, Adams, Pendlebury, B Davies.

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire)