Force-fed a juicy menu of penalties, Gloucester made a satisfactory if unspectacular beginning in their quest to make serious progress in Europe's blue riband. They got the better of the fading stars of Biarritz by a goal and five penalties to a goal and a drop goal. Olly Barkley, the convert from Bath, landed four of those penalties and the fifth came from Ryan Lamb late in the game.
At the launch of the competition in Edinburgh a few days ago, Mike Tindallsaid it was time for Gloucester "to deliver"."We have an exceptional group of players," the captain said, "we've gathered plenty of experience over the last three or four years and we now want to take those few extra steps. If we can get the foundations of our game right then I'm confident we can be a threat against anyone. We are ready to launch our assault."
Gloucester got off to a most encouraging start, as Barkley kicked penalties in the third and eighth minutes, both from difficult angles. Even at this early juncture the referee, Peter Allen, was showing impatience with Biarritz, and when he penalised the former Sale flanker Magnus Lund for not rolling away from a ruck, the official warned: "I don't want to see negative play." Crikey. Give them a chance to warm up.
With their first visit to Gloucester territory, a very rare occurrence, Biarritz collected a drop goal from their stand-off, Julien Peyrelongue. Still the penalties went in favour of the home side but Barkley, with a kick from a much easier angle, struck an upright.
Lamb, with a drop-goal attempt from an even more comfortable place, miscued and there was more relief for the Basques when they were not only awarded a penalty but Olly Morgan was sent to the sin-bin. Following up a kick, the Gloucester full-back tackled Damien Traille while the Frenchman was off the ground.
Playing against 14 men did nothing to improve Biarritz's fortunes, though, and Gloucester continued to inhabit their opponents' half. Indeed, the status quo, in terms of yellow cards, was restored when the lock Jérôme Thion, the Biarritz captain, was sent to the bin on the half-hour for infringing at a ruck. Barkley landed the result-ant penalty to make it 9-3.
What the Kingsholm faithful wanted, and Gloucester deserved, was a try, and James Simpson-Daniel delivered it from the left wing. It was his 18th try in the Heineken Cup and all he had to do was catch the ball. Biarritz had a chaotic moment in defence from a line-out and Luke Narraway, instead of helping himself to a try, knocked on. This was not witnessed by the referee and Gloucester were able to work Simpson-Daniel over on ahuge overlap.
Trailing 16-3 at half-time, Biarritz needed to do something dramatic. They did just that. Three minutes after the interval the centre Romain Cabannes, who had barely touched the ball before then, shot through the Gloucester midfield like a Roman candle and his inside pass enabled the big wing Jean-Baptiste Gobelet to go over close to the posts. With Peyrelongue adding the conversion Biarritz, at 16-10, were very much back in it, although nobody could quite understand how or why.
Gloucester did not exactly live up to Tindall's expectations. They found it difficult to break down a resolute defence and the Lamb-Barkley midfield axis needs time to mature. Gloucester continued to win the penalty count but Barkley was off-target with a none-too-difficult attempt, and when Traille had a go to reduce the deficit to three points, the international centre, who miscued badly with an effort in the first half, did not go within half a mile of the posts.
Biarritz reached the Heineken Cup final in 2006 – they were beaten by Munster – but that is a lot further than Gloucester have ever got.
However, the Basques are not the force they were. They made no impression in the French championship last season and have done little in the current campaign, so another coach faces the guillotine.
None of this will bother Gloucester, who were simply relieved to open their Heineken Cup campaign with a victory. That was all but assured in a hard but uninspired encounter when Barkley kicked his fourth penalty to open up a nine-point gap.
Lamb attempted to increase the lead with another drop-goal attempt but he drilled it low and wide. Gloucester have some gifted backs but they are not being properly exploited. The same, of course, could be said of Biarritz, but they never travelwell and it does not look as if their journey in this competition is going to get any easier.
Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw, M Tindall (capt), O Barkley (L Vainikolo, 73), J Simpson-Daniel; R Lamb, G Cooper (R Lawson, 57); A Dickinson, O Azam, C Nieto, M Bortolami, A Brown, P Buxton, L Narraway, A Strokosch.
Biarritz: B Thierry (A Masi, 58); T Ngwenya, R Cabannes, D Traille, J-B Gobelet; J Peyrelongue, F Cibray; F Barcella (E Coetzee, 66), B August (Barcella, 70), M Moala (B Borrust, 53), J Thion (capt), M Carriza (P Som, 53), M Lund, J Cronje, S Vahafolau.
Referee: P Allen (Scotland).
Pens: Barkley 4, Lamb
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