The two faces of Gloucester rugby were displayed to a capacity crowd at Kingsholm yesterday. The creativity and pace of a singular back division were replaced in the final quarter by obdurate forward defence when they were reduced to 13 players, but their determination not to concede the lead made for an utterly compelling match.
Moreover it carried Gloucester, unbeaten since the opening weekend of the Aviva Premiership, to second in the table. They may not be winning games by much and they face Harlequins, the 2012 champions, next weekend, but they are winning. "There's a long way to go but that was a fabulous display," said Nigel Davies, their director of rugby.
Only two Gloucester players, Ben Morgan and Charlie Sharples, were named in England's squad last week compared with Leicester's eight but that could change before the season ends. The vision and passing skills of Billy Twelvetrees give him a growing claim to England's problem position of inside-centre, and Freddie Burns (right), who included a try in his 17-point haul, is growing in authority at fly half.
But Leicester will still regret their inability to take advantage of their second-half dominance. They will look closely at the decision-making of the match officials during a frenetic final quarter, when the Gloucester scrum was in ruins and Leicester's driving mauls were regularly collapsed, and will make their views known to Ed Morrison, the RFU's refereeing director. "But we made mistakes and Gloucester played very well," a philosophic Richard Cockerill, their director of rugby, said. He shrugged off the withdrawal of Ben Youngs, the England scrum-half who failed a fitness test on his hamstring yesterday morning but is not considered doubtful for the start of the autumn internationals in a fortnight.
Leicester had hardly set foot in the ground before they were behind. Less than a minute had been played when Sharples latched on to a delicate grub-kick by Burns to score with no Leicester player having touched the ball. Nor were Gloucester in the mood to relax: their ball-carriers punched holes close to ruck and maul and they received the unexpected gift of line-out superiority, thanks to Tom Youngs misfiring badly with his throwing.
Even when Leicester worked Scott Hamilton over at the corner with only an inch to spare, Gloucester kept composure. It earned them a fine team try, even if Burns supplied the final individual touch, gathering his own chip-kick one-handed to score.
A six-point interval advantage more than doubled thanks to the brilliance of James Simpson- Daniel. "James is an international wing. Whether he plays international rugby is not my call," said Davies with conviction after Simpson-Daniel, from an ill-directed Leicester kick, swerved inside and outside three defenders before sending Akapusi Qera in for his side's third try.
Thereafter Gloucester were reduced to bloody-minded defence. A collapsed maul led to a yellow card for Jimmy Cowan and, a minute later, Rob Cook followed after the referee judged he deliberately flapped into touch a cross-kick by Toby Flood intended for Vereniki Goneva.
As night follows day, Leicester opted for a five-metre scrum and were duly awarded a penalty try as Gloucester shot backwards into their own in-goal area. But that was the extent of the comeback: Gloucester fiddled around to eke out time until their backs returned and their tackling reduced Leicester to impotence.
Gloucester R Cook (sin bin 60-70); C Sharples, M Tindall (captain), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, J Cowan (sin bin 59-69); N Wood (D Murphy, 61), H Edmonds (K Britton, 54), R Hardern (S Knight, 54), T Savage (P Buxton, 58), W James, S Kalamafoni (M Cox, 60), B Morgan, A Qera.
Leicester G Murphy (captain); S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goneva; T Flood, S Harrison; L Mulipola (M Ayerza, 37), T Youngs, D Cole, L Deacon, G Parling, S Mafi, J Crane (E Slater, 19), T Waldrom.
Referee J P Doyle.
Tries: Sharples, Burns, Qera
Cons: Burns 3
Pens: Burns 2
Tries: Hamilton, penalty
Pens: Flood 3
- More about:
- Mark Tucker
- New Cross
- South West England
- Toby Flood