Narraway revives England claims as Barkley suffers sickening blow
Gloucester 34 Bath 22
Monday 07 March 2011
Luke Narraway must have committed quite some crime to have taken up residence in Martin Johnson's bad books, which is not a healthy place for an ambitious player to be, given that the England manager is about as forgiving as Vlad the Impaler to those who cross him. Word has it that after returning from the humiliating tour of New Zealand in 2008 with reputation intact – a feat that put him in a very small minority indeed – Narraway messed up badly in a fitness test and left the red-rose hierarchy doubting his commitment to the cause. The result? Demotion, followed by banishment.
Only a blind man would question his fitness now. His contribution to the Kingsholmites' hard-earned derby victory on Saturday went far beyond mere captaincy, although he made all the right decisions. His ground coverage was exceptional, his pace off the base of an advancing scrum impressive, his footballing ability when in possession, which was often, gloriously apparent. He also made himself a go-to option after Bath started helping themselves to Gloucester line-out ball, and played an influential hand in two of his side's four tries. Apart from that? Well, what did the Romans do for us?
The 27-year-old is somewhere between seventh and ninth in Johnson's back-row pecking order – just a little frustrating, as England are unlikely to take more than six specialist loose forwards to the World Cup in New Zealand later this year. In respect of the No 8s ahead of him, he is every bit as good a ball-player and significantly quicker than Nick Easter, and infinitely more creative than James Haskell, if a little underpowered by comparison. Still, the die is cast. To make the trip to All Black country, Narraway will need at least one person to do himself a mischief, and probably two.
Talking of which, there were almost 17,000 hearts going out to Olly Barkley as the occasional England midfielder was carried from the field on a stretcher, oxygen mask pressed to his face, his shattered left leg encased in all manner of ultra-modern, high-tech fixtures and fittings. Sympathy is not always extended towards those visiting Castle Grim from faraway parts – Gloucester rugby folk consider Cheltenham to be in a different hemisphere and therefore place Bath in a different universe – but they fell silent for Barkley for two reasons. Firstly, he was once a Cherry and White himself, and if his Kingsholm stay was neither long nor happy, he gave whatever it was he had to give. Secondly, this was a bad injury. Really bad. It may be that he will not been seen on a rugby field this side of Christmas.
If Bath were 26-15 down after conceding tries to Henry Trinder, Paul Doran-Jones and Tom Voyce, they were not quite out: indeed, when Butch James spotted an inviting overlap going right and flicked the ball towards Barkley, it looked for all the world as if the gap would be reduced to six points, or even four. Unfortunately, the South African's pass had all the directional precision of a paper aeroplane caught in a typhoon, and James made things infinitely worse by falling on his colleague during the ensuing chaos. Barkley's kicking leg snapped – both tibia and fibula were said to be broken – and he underwent surgery a short while later. Under the circumstances, the fact that a stone-cold try went begging was the least of the visitors' concerns.
In the event, Bath pulled themselves within range when Simon Taylor and Luke Watson created an injury-time score for Ben Williams, but James' attempt to chip his way out of defence from the restart went badly wrong and resulted in a second five-pointer for Voyce, who may or may not have been in touch as he grounded the ball. The fact that the television match official sanctioned it anyway did not amuse Steve Meehan, the Bath coach.
"We don't get to speak to the TMOs, so we don't know what they see," he said. "In my view you should be absolutely certain before awarding a try, but the balance seems to be towards an 'if in doubt, award it' arrangement. It's frustrating." Frustrating, but hardly the end of the world. Poor Barkley, on the other hand, must be really hurting, in more ways than one.
Gloucester: Tries Voyce 2, Trinder, Doran-Jones; Conversion Robinson; Penalties Robinson 4. Bath: Tries Banahan, Biggs, Williams; Conversions Barkley, James; Penalty Barkley.
Gloucester: O Morgan; C Sharples (T Molenaar, h-t), H Trinder, E Fuimoano-Sapolu, T Voyce; N Robinson (F Burns, 83), R Lawson (J Pasqualin, 90); N Wood (Y Thomas, 90), S Lawson (O Azam, 71), P Doran-Jones (R Harden, 66), W James, J Hamilton (A Brown, 58), P Buxton (A Strokosch, 52), A Hazell (Buxton, 64), L Narraway (capt).
Bath: J Cuthbert (N Scott, 90); M Banahan, B Williams, O Barkley (S Vesty, 70), T Biggs; A James, M Claassens (M McMillan, 80); D Flatman (D Barnes, 68), L Mears (P Dixon, 13), D Bell (K Palma-Newport, 90), S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 63), B Skirving (G Mercer, 84), L Watson (capt), S Taylor.
Referee G Garner (London/Warwickshire).
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