It had to end sooner or later, and yesterday the Gloucester faithful were rewarded after a wait of 20 years as at the 18th attempt their side won at Bath. In a tale of two fly-halves, Gloucester had the New Zealander Willie Walker and Bath had South Africa's Butch James, and the difference was immense.
James had a day to forget. The Springbok, a World Cup winner no less, had a dreadful time with the boot. His confidence evaporatedand after six minutes of the second half, when Bath were trailing 9-5, he even managed to fluff a penalty from in front of the posts. By that stage he had missed four kicks at goal.
How Bath missed Ollie Barkley. The goal-kicking stand-off has moved, of course, to Gloucester, although the Cherry and Whites did not feel hewas ready for this West Country derby. Instead, Dean Ryan, following last weekend's defeat against Leicester, demoted Ryan Lamb and introduced Walker at stand-off.
Walker made a decent job of it, looking far more at home than James and opening the scoring with a drop goal in the first minute as Gloucester took the game to Bath.
Even so, the home side took the lead after 11 minutes when James, from a penalty, punted to the corner. From a short line-out Johnny Faamatuainu made a burst for the line and although the No 8was stopped his captain, Michael Lipman, was on hand to score.
The Rec was in uproar when Gloucester's Peter Buxton then committed a high tackle on Nick Abendanon. It prompted a big dust-up in the forwards, but James missed the penalty. Walker then landed an easy kick to make it 6-5 after 24 minutes, and three minutes later James was again off- target. Walker struck an upright with a fairly simple drop-goal attempt, after which the Gloucester second-row Will James was sent to the sin-bin for use of the boot. The referee, Wayne Barnes, felt he had little option after earlier warning James for a contretemps with Justin Harrison.
Gloucester increased their lead to four points by the interval, Walker landing another penalty; Bath's James responded with a hopeless attempt at a drop goal from 50 metres.
Gloucester, enjoying territory and possession, were playing the better rugby, although Matt Banahan gave the crowd a lift with an encouraging kick and chase. Frustration, though, had the crowd giving their fly-half the bird, especially after he missed again in the 61st minute. Three minutes later Gloucester's No 8, Luke Narraway, broke down the short side, sold a dummy and galloped over from35 yards.
Gloucester were nine points up and Bath sent on a raft of replacements. What they did not have, however, was a replacement stand-off, and after 70 minutes James's nightmare took another twist when he had a kick charged down by Walker, who scored at the posts. Gloucester were surely now home and dry.
Not quite. Bath suddenly began to play some of the best rugby of the afternoon. First Joe Maddock went over in the right-hand corner and there was a huge, ironic cheer when Shaun Berne converted.
Bath were not finished. In the 84th minute Abendanon broke through for another try and suddenly Gloucester's lead was down to four points. They were grateful when another Bath attack broke down with a knock-on.
There was misery for Butch, then, but Gloucester's hole-in-the-wall gang took the spoils. They had waited long enough.
Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, T Cheeseman (S Berne, 65), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, M Banahan (J Cuthbert, 67); B James, M Claassens (S Bemand, 65); D Flatman (D Barnes, 51), L Mears (P Dixon, 68), M Stevens (D Bell, 68), J Harrison, P Short, S Hooper, J Faamatuainu (J Scaysbrook, 66), M Lipman (capt).
Gloucester: O Morgan (R Lamb, 79); J Simpson-Daniel, M Watkins, M Tindall (capt), L Vainikolo; W Walker, G Cooper (R Lawson, 52); N Wood (D Young, 62), O Azam (A Titterrell, 74), C Nieto, W James (M Bortolami, 51), A Brown, P Buxton, L Narraway, A Hazell (A Strokosch, 78).
Referee: W Barnes (London).