Cherry and Whites mesmerised by magic touch of Ngwenya

Biarritz 42 Gloucester 15
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The Independent Online

In a shining display of staggering individual talent, a modest 24-year-old Zimbabwean American shone almost as brightly as the sun above his adopted Basque homeland to play a pivotal role in the downfall of Gloucester in their second Heineken Cup pool game.

Too small to play American football, Takudzwa Ngwenya decided to play sevens rugby “to keep in shape” one summer. He first picked up a rugby ball in 2006. The following year he was playing for the USA in the World Cup and making South Africa’s Bryan Habana look a little leaden-footed. Saracens took immediate notice, as did Biarritz’s neighbours Bayonne. But Ngwenya thinks he made the right choice.

“I am happy right now,” he said after scoring a hat-trick to change the face of a game which, after 35 minutes, was still in the balance. “I am still learning a lot and rugby-wise I have come a long way, but skill-wise I still have a long way to go.”

His second try, after his first had left the visitors’ defence sprawling, was from a zip down the right wing, a little chip, a perfect gather, and a sprint the rest of the way to the posts. It was, he said, the first time he had tried to kick a ball like that.

The Gloucester defence, until that point, had been resolute but Biarritz coach Jack Isaac had been working all week on attack, and Ngwenya’s was the bit of magic needed to lift the whole side. It was helped, possibly, by Andy Hazell, member of a staunch back row, being in the sin bin at the time. But Hazell was back on the pitch for Ngwenya’s second, and the hattrick came 10 minutes into the second half to almost Roman theatre acclaim.The sheer joy with which French sides are playing the game makes English teams look rather limited and pedestrian at times, almost as if they had collectively decided to play the sort of game which the French national coach, Marc Lièvremont,wants to see.

Unfortunately, that theory falls down when you consider that only one Frenchman was in the starting line-up for a Toulon side which beat Saracens with the same sort of joie de vivre. But maybe even the imports to the French game are entering into the spirit. As for Gloucester, perhaps the return of Jake Boer will provide a welcome dose of heart. He had been on a beach on the western Cape when he received the call on Tuesday.

His UK home from home is in trouble with injuries and he expects to be here at least until Christmas. In Biarritz, he came on as a substitute and scored a try at the bottom of a burrowing Gloucester scrum, joining Tom Voyce on the score-sheet – those two tries gave the Cherry and White scoreline a semblance of respectability. They also represented the first tries in six matches that Biarritz had given away. Lions coach Ian McGeechan has tipped Biarritz, along with Toulouse, for European glory this year. Isaac is cautious but cannot completely hide his optimism, and nor should he with a talent such as Ngwenya in his side.

Scorers: Biarritz: Tries Ngwenya (3), Erinle; Conversions Yachvili (3); Penalties Yachvili (2);

Gloucester: Tries Voyce, Boer; Conversion Burns; Penalty Robinson.

Biarritz: M Bosch; T Ngwenya, A Mignardi, D Traille (L Tranier, 68), N Brusque (A Erinle, 54); J Peyrelongue (V Courrent, 54), D Yachvili; F Barcella (E Coetzee, 61), B August (R Terrain, 65), C Johnstone (M Moala 59), J Thion (capt, M Carizza, 65), P Taele, M Lund (W Lauret, 53), S Vahafolau, I Harinordoquy.

Gloucester:T Voyce; C Sharples, J Simpson-Daniel, E Fuimaono-Sapolo, L Vainikolo; N Robinson (F Burns, 56), D Lewis (R Lawson, 41); A Dickinson (P Doran-Jones, 51), S Lawson (D Dawiduik, 73), G Somerville (P Capdevielle, 60), D Attwood, W James, A Qera (JBoer, 56), A Hazell, G Delve (capt).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).