Gloucester's fighting spirit arrives too late
London Irish 40 Gloucester 10
Back in the amateur era, Gloucester were the last rugby team on God's earth to go down without a fight. They have been too conciliatory by half in recent seasons – the mocking phrase "after you, Claude" might have been invented for them – but yesterday, they rediscovered the deeply-held aversion to horizontal pacifism that made the Mike Burtons, John Fidlers and John Gadds as feared as they were respected. Unfortunately for the West Countrymen, the Premiership is about winning matches, not fights.
They were 30 points adrift and on the painful end of a second 40-point pummelling at the Madejski Stadium in the space of nine months when Gareth Delve, their captain, became embroiled in a full and frank exchange of views with the very substantial Samoan flanker George Stowers. Delve is one of life's harder nuts – during his time at Bath, he scared the living daylights out of some colleagues widely assumed to be unscareable – and he made quite a mess of Stowers, who was both bloodied and bruised.
Both men were sent to the sin bin for the remaining few seconds of the game, and when Delve arrived on the touch-line he found himself confronted by the London Irish skipper Bob Casey, who was keen to strike up a discussion of his own.
"I think Bob was reminding him that if the incident was what we thought it was, there would be a price to pay," said Toby Booth, the Exiles coach. How nice to see rugby calming itself down after its shenanigan-swamped summer.
Unless they are very careful, Gloucester will find themselves firmly on the authorities' nerves before the month is out. Their flanker Andy Hazell is already on a disciplinary rap for stamping during the victory over Bath on the first weekend. Yesterday, Delve was merely the last of four Cherry and Whites to find himself despatched to the cooler. Charlie Sharples, Akapusi Qera and Pierre Capdevielle all blazed the trail for their leader, and at one point, the visitors had only a dozen men on the field.
That is no way to win a match against a side as good as London Irish, who scrummaged so strongly that the Gloucester pack found itself being pushed around like one of those trendy three-wheeled baby buggies. Operating on the front foot throughout, Ryan Lamb made mincemeat of his old club; indeed, the outside-half's distribution, allied to an accurate kicking game from both tee and hand, was of such quality that memories of his disappointing effort against Saracens the previous weekend were immediately erased.
"Kick the goals and feed the speed – those are Ryan's jobs," said Booth, satisfied that his most significant signing of the summer had performed each of them to a high level after the false start at Twickenham. Certainly, Gloucester had little to set against the little stand-off when he spread the ball to the dangerous runners outside, most notably the Samoan wing Sailosi Tagicakibau, who scored excellent tries in each half.
Paul Hodgson, the busy scrum-half, was equally eye-catching, although he blotted his pristine copybook with a missed tackle that allowed Sharples to claim a consolation try.
Yet it was the London Irish forwards, strikingly accomplished at the set-pieces and hungry in the loose, who created the conditions for a bonus-point victory that will alarm most of the other challengers for this season's title, if not all of them.
After Clarke Dermody, Danie Coetzee and Paulica Ion had established supremacy in the first half, Booth was able to replace all three without the scrum missing a beat. Gloucester were in such a mess late on that they went into full retreat and conceded a penalty try.
If there was a negative for Irish, it was the nasty shoulder injury suffered by their full-back Delon Armitage an hour into the contest. Booth could be heard talking afterwards of a "possible dislocation" and if the coach's diagnostic skills turn out to match his coaching ones, there is no guarantee Armitage will be fit for any of England's three internationals in November.
London Irish: Tries Tagicakibau 2, D Armitage, penalty try; Conversions Lamb 4; Penalties Lamb 4. Gloucester: Try Sharples; Conversion: Robinson; Penalty: Robinson.
London Irish: D Armitage (P Hewat, 64); A Thompstone, E Seveali'I (P Richards, 55), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson (A Lalanne, 79); C Dermody ( P Murphy 64), D Coetzee (J Buckland, 64), P Ion (F Rautenbach ,64), N Kennedy, R Casey (capt, A Perry, 69), D Danaher, S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (G Stowers, 64).
Gloucester: O Morgan; C Sharples (Somerville, 77), T Molenaar (J Simpson-Daniel, h-t), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, T Voyce; N Robinson, R Lawson (D Lewis, 68); A Dickinson (N Wood, h-t -72), S Lawson, G Somerville (P Capdevielle, h-t), D Attwood, A Brown (M Bortolami, 59), A Strokosch, A Hazell (A Qera, 45), G Delve (capt).
Referee: Dean Richards (Berkshire).
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