Between them, the grizzliest members of Bristol's profoundly grizzly forward pack – Darren Crompton, Roy Winters, Matt Salter and Andrew Blowers – have spent 141 years on this earth. They are no spring chickens, to say the very least. Yet together with Jason Hobson, who looks 141 but turned 24 only last week, these ancients manhandled Gloucester to distraction at the Memorial Ground, denying the Premiership leaders a six-point lead at the top of the log.
Bristol shipped three broken-field tries between the 11th and 28th minutes, but once they brought their driving and arm-wrestling acts up to the level of a line-out cleverly run by their Maori lock Sean Hohneck they achieved a level of ascendancy that made a nonsense of their lowly position in the table. Mauling tries from two front-rowers earned them a useful advantage at the interval, while half a dozen second-half points from Jason Strange completed the job.
Fairly predictably, Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, headed back up the M5 in one of his darker moods. Not so predictably, his anger had its roots in the opening half-hour, when his side scored 17 points and threatened to run Bristol from one side of the city to the other.
"I was," he said, "appalled by our approach in that 30-minute period. We ran out of our own 22 the first time we touched the ball and felt we could do as we liked. Basically, 10 or 12 international players went strolling into town and strolled straight into a car crash. The tries we scored had nothing to do with the things we'd planned for this game and by playing as we did, we laid Bristol's foundations for them."
As Ryan's opposite number, Richard Hill, was equally apoplectic for much of the first half – "I was scribbling like hell in my notebook because we were all over the place, and the players won't want to see the things I wrote," he said – those uninitiated in the finer points of West Country derby tactics might be just a little confused. But both coaches had some logic on their side. Bristol were every bit as vulnerable as Hill suggested, while Ryan was perfectly justified in tearing into the fancy-pants rugby played by his charges.
Gloucester were six points down to a brace of Strange penalties when they sent Lesley Vainikolo, who looked anything but a Test-class union wing, running smack into Rob Higgitt, who promptly picked up the outsized Tongan and sent him back from whence he came. The ball, however, found its way into the hands of Jack Adams, who set sail and created a try in the right corner for James Simpson-Daniel.
Almost from the restart, Simpson-Daniel repaid the compliment with a chip-and-chase routine that saw Adams dive over for another score. When Anthony Allen intercepted a spectacularly hopeful floated pass from Strange and disappeared into the distance, Gloucester looked likely to wrap up a bonus-point victory in the shortest of short orders.
Yet the Bristol forwards, with the hooker Scott Linklater prominent in the loose and Blowers playing a majestic hand at No 8, turned the tide with some pragmatic, hard-nosed and utterly ruthless forward-oriented rugby. Before the break, both Linklater and Hobson were awarded tries from driven line-outs, the second of which occurred after Marco Bortolami, Gloucester's Italian captain, was packed off to the sin-bin for dragging down a maul.
The second half was less breathless, largely because of the control exerted by the home pack, although there was an eye-opening incident just shy of the hour when a streaker, bereft of everything but his socks, spent the best part of two minutes directing Gloucester's play from a position close to the outside-half slot.
It might be argued that he made a better fist of it than an out-of-sorts Chris Paterson – while the Scot was on the field, the phrase "two good balls in a row" was a complete mystery to the visitors – but a threatening approach from Vainikolo was enough to send the naked intruder scurrying from the field.
Paterson's legitimate replacement, Willie – oh, pleeeaase – Walker, kicked two penalties to take Gloucester within three points, but with one eye on the so-called "countdown clock", the Bristol forwards ate up the final two minutes with a series of forward rumbles. The game deserved a more entrancing finale and the sooner the authorities scrap the current system, the better.
For all that, only the harshest of critics would condemn the home side for their up-the-jumper approach to the last knockings. They are at their best when they leave the champagne rugby to others and settle for the real ale variety. Yesterday, that ale tasted like nectar.
Bristol: Tries Linklater, Hobson; Conversions Strange 2; Penalties Strange 4; Drop goal Strange. Gloucester: Tries Simpson-Daniel, Adams, Allen; Conversion Paterson; Penalties Walker 2, Paterson.
Bristol: L Arscott; L Robinson (J Taumalolo, 57; S Cox 77), R Higgitt, D Hill, D Lemi; J Strange, B O'Riordan; D Crompton, S Linklater, J Hobson (A Clarke, 79), R Winters, S Hohneck, M Salter (capt), J El Abd, A Blowers.
Gloucester: I Balshaw; J Simpson-Daniel, J Adams, A Allen, L Vainikolo; C Paterson (W Walker, 54), G Cooper (R Lawson, 48); N Wood (A Dickinson, 71), J Paul (A Titterrell, 47), C Nieto, W James (P Buxton, 66), M Bortolami (capt), L Narraway (A Strokosch, 47), A Hazell, G Delve.
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content