Balshaw wakes up to douse Dragons' fire

Gloucester 25 Newport Gwent 20
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The Independent Online

Some teams take this competition a bit more seriously than others. On paper, Gloucester looked far stronger than a diluted Newport, but it didn't quite work out as expected.For a decent proportion ofthe match the Welsh region looked the better team, butwere finished off by Lesley Vainikolo and Iain Balshaw.

In print, Mike Tindall, the Gloucester captain, said: "There might be an outside perception that the EDF Energy cup is not as important as the Guinness Premiership or the Heineken Cup. I can tell you for a fact that nothing could be further from the truth. You don't become successful by picking and choosing." Tindall sounded far more enthusiastic on the page than on the pitch. Perhaps it's a psychological thing.

Following Heineken Cup action last week, nobody can afford to send out the same poor bloody infantry. The visitors chose to rest nine of their first-teamers, but it didn't show. The Dragons, long considered a soft touch, have been anything but this season, and they led here until midway through the second half. Gloucester had been fairly dreadful until they were transformed by the contribution of two players.

Jack Adams, a young centre of great promise who has spent a long time in rehabilitation, came off the bench after 58 minutes and moved into midfield, with Olly Barkley taking over from the disappointing Willie Walker at stand-off.With his first touch Adams provided what Gloucester had been lacking, a decisive surge of adrenaline that would have rewarded him with a try butfor being unbalanced by Jason Tovey.

Still, he seemed to act as a cheerleader, for within minutes the scoreline was transformed. After the Dragons prop Adam Black was sent to the sin-bin, Balshaw reminded people that he was on the field when he set off on a trademark run borrowed from a March hare, and when the move swung left, Vainikolo crashed through Ashley Smith and got over in the corner.

That was in the 65th minute and it put Gloucester 17-15 in front. Three minutes later a reborn Balshaw made another hazy run and then reappeared to glide over from close range. That, it was hard to believe, was Gloucester's fourth try and it brought them a bonus point, so they are well placed to qualify for the knockout stages.

"There was very little structure and we're lacking a bit of confidence and cohesion," Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, lamented. "We'll take a bonus- point win." His opposite number, Paul Turner, who had a stint at Kingsholm, thought Gloucester were there for the taking. "It was ours to win," he said. "To be frank I'm pissed off with the result."

You could see his point, as the West Country club committed innumerable handling errors and kicked and passed badly. A first-half highlight was Vainikolo's first try in the 18th minute when the Tongan, all Afro aggression and flashing yellow boots, took an inside pass from Walker to cross at the posts.

Two minutes later, however, Rhodri Gomer Davies sign-posted the way through the Gloucester midfield – Tindall and Barkley were often exposed – to create a try for the excellent Richard Fussell. After Barkley hit an upright with a penalty, the Dragons scored another try.

Among other things, it put Balshaw into a total state of panic. Fussell led a counter-attack which included a cameo from Black, who found the left- hand corner with arguably the greatest grub kick ever performed by a prop forward. Subsequently Shaun Connor was able to send the No 8, Grant Webb, in for a try close to the posts, and the Dragons were 12-7 ahead.

Kingsholm resorted to type and turned their fire on the referee, Nigel Owens. "You don't know what you're doing," chanted the crowd in the Shed. The boos turned to cheers when Connor missed with a penalty before the hooker Scott Lawson dashed down the blindside to score from a well-worked line-out move, and at half-time they were all square.

Enter Balshaw and praise from his relieved coach. "Give him a bit of space and there is no better strike runner in the game," Ryan said. "I think he was harshly treated by England last season."

The Dragons have only two players in the national squad for the autumn internationals, and tomorrow morning they are expected to turn up for Wales training in a compromise move only arrived at through the courts.

Gloucester: I Balshaw; M Foster, M Tindall (capt), O Barkley, L Vainikolo; W Walker (J Adams, 58), R Lawson (D Lewis, 28); A Dickinson (A Satala, 66), S Lawson (A Titterall, 53), C Nieto (J Forster, 40), A Eustace, M Bortolami, P Buxton, A Strokosch, A Hazell.

Newport Gwent Dragons: P Dollman; T Selley, R Gomer Davies (J Tovey, 62), A Smith (capt), R Fussell; S Connor, W Evans (T Isaacs, 62); A Black (G Maule, 73), S Jones (T Willis, 58), R Thomas, A Jones, A Hall, D Lydiate, G Webb (J Bearman, 58), R Parks (J Ringer, 52).

Referee: N Owens (Wales) .