In the week that peace was finally declared in Europe, war broke out in Gloucester. This Aviva Premiership meeting of West Country rivals was utterly disfigured by the lack of control of players and officials, which resulted in two red cards and five yellow cards being awarded and the home club ending with 11 players on the field.
In the circumstances, Gloucester could almost claim a moral victory, for what that is worth. Bath claimed the winning points courtesy of a penalty try a minute from time, keeping their distance ahead of Harlequins for a play-off place, but the capacity crowd expressed their displeasure vocally and a bottle was thrown at Tim Wigglesworth, the referee, as he left the field.
Premier Rugby officials must surely order an inquiry into a match which also included a reversion to uncontested scrums midway through the second half after the first of the red cards was awarded against Sila Puafisa, the Gloucester replacement prop. Puafisa's offence was a dangerous high tackle on Nick Abendanon, with which it was hard to disagree; but Gloucester's subsquent removal of Nick Wood, when he appeared fit, and refusal to play Dan Murphy, the replacement prop, at tight head seems questionable.
"It would have been dangerous, Dan hasn't trained to play there," Nigel Davies, Gloucester's director of rugby, said. "It would have been unacceptable, tight head is a very technical position, you can't throw someone into that environment." It was not a view shared by the Bath coaching staff, some of whom have coached Murphy when he was at London Irish, and the visitors felt it removed one of their points of strength.
"Derby games are very passionate, players are on the edge, but we've only had four yellow cards all year and here we get three in one afternoon," Mike Ford, Bath's head coach, said. Ford was convinced that Horacio Agulla scored a first-half try that was disallowed for blocking by Matt Banahan but refused to comment on the referee ing of the game whereas Davies claimed that officiating inconsistencies led to frustration among the players. "When a game is not managed, you get that frustration," Davies said.
The second red card, against Tavis Knoyle for punching Leroy Houston in a mêlée that followed Bath's penalty try, was equally uncontentious. But by then the whole atmosphere of a game that, frankly, contained a low level of skill had been poisoned by the stream of stoppages and yellow cards.
Bath spent 30 minutes of the game with 14 players on the field; Gloucester were reduced to 14 after 53 minutes, then to 13 and 12 in the last five minutes and 11 for the final minute.
Yet they could have won. Charlie Sharples went for an interception deep in his own half and, had he clung to the ball, would surely have scored and put the match beyond recovery. Three penalties by Billy Twelvetrees to two by George Ford reflected a lacklustre first half but when Stuart Hooper drove over on the end of a Bath maul, Gloucester's response was excellent. Twelvetrees kicked his fourth penalty and, had he added the conversion of Henry Trinder's well-taken try, Bath's finale would have been in vain.
Gloucester M Thomas (R Cook, 66); C Sharples, H Trinder (F Burns, 72), M Tindall (Burns, 39-41; sin-bin, 75), J May; B Twelvetrees (capt), J Cowan (T Knoyle, 66; red card 79); N Wood (D Murphy, 58), D George (H Edmonds,46; sin-bin 76), S Knight (S Puafisi, 46; red card 53), E Stooke, W James (J Hudson, 63), S Kalamafoni, M Kvesic, G Evans (B Morgan, 40).
Bath N Abendanon; S Rokoduguni, M Banahan, K Eastmond (G Henson, 72), H Agulla (A Watson, 74); G Ford, M Young (P Stringer, 53); P James (N Catt, 53; D Day, 68), R Batty, D Wilson (A Perenise, 53), S Hooper (capt), D Attwood (sin-bin 67-78), M Garvey (sin-bin 40-51), C Fearns (sin-bin 29-39; G Mercer, 68), L Houston.
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).
Tries: Pennell, Creevy, Lemi 2
Cons: Lamb 2
Pens: Lamb 3
Tries: Lewis, Hill, Steenson, Yeandle 2
Cons: Steenson 5