Not for the first time in top-level European competition, Biarritz failed to win an important match in England for the very good reason that they failed to play for the first two-thirds of the contest. As this was more by design than accident – the word "conservative" doesn't do the remotest justice to their lack of adventure – it reinforced their reputation as a thoroughly odd bunch of Basques. There again, they would have had to have been very singular indeed to have kept pace with Peter Allan in the peculiarity stakes.
The Scottish referee had a rough time at Kingsholm on Saturday night. Not as rough a time as Clayton Thomas, of Wales, had at Leicester a few years ago, when his performance tempted the Parisians of Stade Français to insert his whistle in a place where the sun never shines, but still rough. The try Gloucester scored with the last move of the first half should not have been awarded – Luke Narraway, who had another industrious match at No 8, knocked the ball well forward long before James Simpson-Daniel touched down in the left corner – and his officiating at the breakdown was profoundly one-eyed.
Biarritz lost the penalty count three to one, and while French sides have long been accustomed to holding the smelly end of the stick on their trips across the water, the visitors were seriously put out on this occasion. Serge Blanco, the greatest of all full-backs, spent the evening spluttering with disgust from his committee-man's seat in the stand, while down at pitchside, the coach, Jacques Delmas, went through the full repertoire of negative emotions, from mild frustration to full-blown incandescence.
"I'm lost for words," said John Isaac, Delmas's back-room colleague, before rediscovering the power of his vocabulary and letting fly with a verbal vengeance. "I accept that our discipline wasn't up to scratch, but we were very, very disappointed with the referee," he remarked. "The things that went against us didn't go against Gloucester in the same way, so it wasn't a simple issue of interpretation. We've made our feelings known, but I'm in need of some answers here."
Repeatedly punished for perceived transgressions in and around the tackle area – Jerome Thion, their international lock and captain, was pointed in the direction of the cooler well before the interval – Biarritz had little opportunity to build momentum. Their equalising try came suddenly when Romain Cabannes was given a clear run into the Gloucester 22 and Jean-Baptiste Gobelet materialised on his shoulder to receive the scoring pass, but that aside, they stumbled through the game, firing blanks on the rare occasions they fired anything at all.
For all their good fortune with the referee, Gloucester were good value for their points. They operated at a high tempo, especially in the first half; they ruled the roost at the line-out, where Olivier Azam hit his jumpers with unerring accuracy; and they kicked their goals, with Olly Barkley nailing three beauties from wide angles on the "wrong" side of the field, including a magisterial conversion of Simpson-Daniel's try.
Quite whether a simple run-in against a defence utterly bamboozled by the referee's failure to spot Narraway's public fumble close to the Biarritz line will be enough to propel the inventive little wing into the England starting line-up for next month's meeting with the Pacific Islands at Twickenham is anyone's guess. Martin Johnson, the new national manager, witnessed it at first hand, and he must have been impressed by all aspects of Simpson-Daniel's attacking performance. But old Leicester hard-heads like Johnson prefer their wings to be solid first and sensational second. Simpson-Daniel had no problem keeping the unusually rapid Takudzwa Ngwenya under lock and key, but his problems with the much bigger Matt Banahan at Bath last month will still be in the back of the manager's mind.
But all things considered, Simpson-Daniel and Narraway must be close to England places. The question at Kingsholm is whether Ryan Lamb did enough on Saturday to reclaim his place in the affections of his head coach. Dean Ryan gave Lamb a significant chance here, having preferred both Barkley and Willie Walker in the big Premiership matches leading into it. The youngster was busy enough, and leaving aside a couple of daft drop-goal attempts, he generally did Ryan's bidding by playing the percentages rather than playing Jack the Lad.
"That was as well as we've played [in] the Heineken Cup in terms of doing the right things at the right times," the coach said. This may have had something to do with Barkley calling the shots from inside centre, but if Lamb carries the can when the game plan falls apart – and he has done so on several occasions in the recent past – fairness demands that he be congratulated when it remains in one piece. He was not brilliant, but he did enough to merit another chance.
Scorers: Gloucester: Try Simpson-Daniel; Conversion Barkley; Penalties Barkley 4, Lamb. Biarritz: Try Gobelet; Conversion Peyrelongue; Drop goal Peyrelongue.
Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw, M Tindall (capt), O Barkley (L Vainikolo 78), J Simpson-Daniel; R Lamb, G Cooper (R Lawson 58); A Dickinson, O Azam, C Nieto, M Bortolami, A Brown, P Buxton, A Strokosch, L Narraway.
Biarritz: B Thiery (A Masi 59); T Ngwenya, R Cabannes (P Bidabe 76), D Traille, J-B Gobelet; J Peyrelongue, F Cibray; F Barcella (E Coetzee 67), B August (Barcella 73), M Moala (B Bourrust 54), J Thion (capt), M Carizza (P Som 54), M Lund, S Vanafolau, J Cronje.
Referee: P Allan (Scotland).Reuse content