Bristol see hard road to the big league

Gloucester 21 Bristol 0
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The Independent Online

It was supposed to have all the ingredients of a throwback to the good old days. A classic West Country derby, a full house, a particularly foul day, and a return to Kingsholm for Richard Hill, the Bristol coach, who was director of rugby at Gloucester until the Cherry and Whites decided that they preferred the French accent of Philippe Saint-André to the Bath burr of Hill.

It was supposed to have all the ingredients of a throwback to the good old days. A classic West Country derby, a full house, a particularly foul day, and a return to Kingsholm for Richard Hill, the Bristol coach, who was director of rugby at Gloucester until the Cherry and Whites decided that they preferred the French accent of Philippe Saint-André to the Bath burr of Hill.

Alas there was no fairy-tale as Gloucester, with a little help from the referee Steve Lander, ruthlessly extinguished any prospect of a romantic afternoon. Manchester United and Exeter this was not.

The last time the clubs met here was in September 2002; Gloucester went on to finish top of the Premiership, Bristol bottom, which meant relegation, a mass exodus of players and rebuilding from scratch. They have done a good job although yesterday's scoreline, which did nothing to reflect Bristol's contribution, nevertheless highlighted the disparity between the Premiership and National League One.

Gloucester couldn't have cared less for the quality. It was the width of the victory that has got them into the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup with the chance of a fifth triumph at Twickenham. They need a cause for celebration after suffering four successive defeats, culminating in last week's exit from the Heineken Cup after a shambolic 27-0 home defeat to Stade Français.

The visitors had not beaten Gloucester in the national knock-out cup since 1973, when none of the players yesterday, bar the Bristol prop Dave Hilton, had been born.

Bristol had reached the quarter-finals by the strangest of routes. They lost a thriller in the sixth round 43-33 to Wasps after extra-time, but were reinstated when it was discovered that Wasps had fielded an ineligible player.

Bristol got off to a promising start, releasing the dynamic right-wing Marko Stanojevic, who came within a couple of feet of making the line. Jason Strange was short with a penalty attempt and in the early stages Gloucester were defending like mad. However, they resisted Bristol's advances and hit the front in the 16th minute with a penalty from Henry Paul. Bristol, who have some experienced old hands in their pack including Hilton, the former Scotland prop, and the excellent No 8 Jim Brownrigg, concentrate on scoring tries through their exciting young back line and they revealed flashes of their style before getting dragged into Gloucester's more mundane approach as the first half unfolded.

Bristol fell increasingly on the wrong side of Lander, who penalised them mercilessly for all manner of offences, and Paul added further penalties in the 25th and 32nd minutes.

As rain made handling increasingly difficult, Gloucester reverted more and more to the rolling maul, which was a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, albeit a hard one.

Gloucester's first try arrived in the 46th minute when, after winning yet another penalty, they elected to go for a pushover scrum. Bristol were hell-bent on denying them but when the ball squirted out on Bristol's side and the ball rolled over the line, the first player to respond was the Gloucester scrum-half Andy Gomarsall. It was the softest of tries for the England No 9, who went on to suffer some discomfort. After 52 minutes Gomarsall departed, holding a hand to his left eye and, as he walked off the pitch, he collided with a metal post. He returned after receiving medical treatment but was forced off again two minutes from the end of normal time.

This was not good news for Andy Robinson, the England coach, who had already seen his captain Jason Robinson suffer a leg injury during Sale's quarter-final defeat to Bath on Friday night.

As conditions deteriorated Bristol were finding it harder and harder to resist Gloucester's forward effort. When Strange, who had formed an impressive looking half-back partnership with the former Scotland Under-21 scrum-half Ross Blake, uncharacteristically failed to find touch, Seti Kiole set off on a bulldozing run which was halted just in front of the Bristol posts. Kiole, playing for the rested James Simpson-Daniel, does not possess much subtlety but he is a hard man to bring to ground.

Ten minutes from time Gloucester increased their lead when the lock Alex Brown surged down the right-hand touchline, adding a flamboyant dive to the finish. Even then Bristol were not finished and once again they stretched the Gloucester defence to breaking point. But a couple of silly errors prevented them from gaining the consolation of a score.

Bristol are now left to concentrate on winning promotion and yesterday, in spite of everything, they showed why they are favourites to finish top of National League One.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, S Kiole; D McRae, A Gomarsall (A Page, 78); C Bezuidenhout (N Wood, 74), M Davies, T Sigley, A Eustace (P Buxton, 61), A Brown, J Boer (capt), A Balding, A Hazell (J Forrester, 75).

Bristol: S Marsden (J Pritchard, 80); M Stanojevic, R Higgitt, S Cox, L Nabaro (A Bilig, 68); J Strange, R Blake; D Hotel, S Nelson (N Clark, 63), J Hobson (A Clarke, 57), E Pearce (O Kohn, 63), O Hodge, C Morgan (R Martin-Redman, 57), J Brownrigg, J El Abd (capt).

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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