Balshaw's try has Shedheads raising the roof

Gloucester 23 London Irish 21
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The Independent Online

It might just be the salvation of their season. Gloucester had been unravelling at an alarming rate, making a premature exit from the Heineken Cup and, yesterday, in a one-sided first half, they looked shot to pieces. A game of two halves? Not half.

After 34 minutes, London Irish, who arrived here as leaders of the Guinness Premiership, were 18-3 ahead and you could have heard a penny drop in the Shed. By the end, the Exiles were heading back down the M4 after a shattering defeat that enabled Gloucester to go top of the table, one point ahead, 41 to 40.

Gloucester, who lost to Cardiff at Kingsholm in the Heineken Cup, wanted three of their England players, Olly Morgan, Mike Tindall and Luke Narraway, to be released. They were denied. Irish were allowed to field Delon Armitage and Nick Kennedy, who had not played much recently, but they in turn were refused permission to pick Steffon Armitage and Shane Geraghty.

The Exiles, who beat Gloucester 42-12 at the Madejski Stadium just before Christmas, were by far the more accomplished side as they built a 15-0 lead by the 20th minute. Gloucester's confidence looked as low as a depressed mole but as the half drew to a close Olly Barkley began to chip away. By the break it was 18-9.

"I told them we had something going and we had to keep hustling," Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, said. "They responded magnificently. We are going to get stronger." So is Ryan, who had a bloodied forehead and a broken collarbone after falling off his bike.

Barkley kicked six penalties in all but Gloucester finally hit the front when Iain Balshaw, released on an overlap on the right, crossed for his side's only try, his 50th in the Premiership and one of the most important.

Irish showed why they had been top when Adam Thompstone, after great work by Paul Hodgson, and Topsy Ojo scored tries. Peter Hewat kicked 11 points.

Gloucester were all over the place. Olivier Azam, captain for the first time, couldn't locate his jumpers and early in the second half the replacement scrum-half, Dave Lewis, was carried off with a broken ankle. Anthony Allen and Seilala Mapusua saw yellow but the Exiles' No 8, Chris Hala'Ufia, after a couple of high, shuddering tackles, was the one who deserved to spend time in the sin-bin.

Toby Booth, the London Irish coach, said: "There were quite a few late elbows flying around and it will be an interesting review for the citing commissioner. I knew we had to be on the edge to compete here, it was the same last year. I wasn't unhappy at our physicality. I was certainly not happy with the penalty count.

"If we were penalised two or three times for the same thing then that's pretty dull. In the first half we were in such control of the game but then we stopped doing the things we had been doing so well."

Ryan and the Shed were grateful.

Gloucester: W Walker; I Balshaw, H Trinder, A Allen, J Simpson-Daniel; O Barkley, R Lawson (D Lewis, 46; R Lamb, 49); A Dickinson (N Wood, 54), O Azam (capt), G Somerville, A Eustace (M Bortolami, 49), A Brown, A Strokosch (A Hazell, 42), G Delve, A Satala.

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, A Thompstone; P Hewat (M Catt, 65), P Hodgson; C Dermody (A Corbisiero, 68), D Paice (D Coetzee, 63), T Lea'aetoa (R Skuse, 47), N Kennedy (J Hudson, 63), B Casey (capt), R Thorpe, C Hala'Ufia, D Danaher (G Johnson, 35).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).