Samoa's new master leaves Wasps cursing
Gloucester 22 Wasps 20
Monday 27 September 2010
The finest Samoan centres of yesteryear – Frank Bunce and Va'aiga Tuigamala spring to mind, as do George Leaupepe and To'o Vaega – earned every headline they ever received. The most gifted of their successors, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, does not generate many headlines, for obvious reasons: in some newspapers, his name fills an entire paragraph. But crikey, the man from Apia can play.
His first-half performance against Wasps at Kingsholm bordered on the magisterial, and he might have touched even greater heights had he not been taken ill in the dressing room at half-time.
Eliota – let's keep things simple here – has always had a touch of the stardust about him, but when Brian Ashton, no mean judge of a midfielder, brought him to Bath on the strength of initial Test performances against Scotland and England in 2005, there was little in the way of an immediate return on the investment. It seems Gloucester will be the ones to reap the dividends. The 16st islander's try in the second minute of stoppage time was a wondrous concoction of pace, power, footwork, bewitchery and a hand-off reminiscent of a Joe Frazier jab, and it led the Gloucester captain Rory Lawson to remark: "He has skills most of us only dream of possessing."
Assuming he continues in this vein – "He's in great shape and has a good mindset, and when the islands boys are happy, they also tend to be outstanding," said his coach, Bryan Redpath – there is no reason why the Cherry and Whites should not fulfil at least some of their rich potential over the next eight months or so. For one reason or another, backs as accomplished as Mike Tindall, Olly Morgan and Freddie Burns did not start this game. When everyone is fit and sufficiently tuned in to operate on the same wavelength as Eliota and the ever constructive James Simpson-Daniel, tries will not be in short supply.
Mind you, they are still making too many errors of the unforced variety. The turnover count is high, the "soft" penalty count higher still and the numbers of fluffed tackles are of serious concern. Andy Hazell, of all people on God's earth, presented Dan Ward-Smith with a gift-wrapped score when he missed the No 8 in open field for reasons that will never be satisfactorily explained and there was precious little to write home about, defensively speaking, when Joe Simpson galloped into the wide blue yonder early in the final quarter.
Thanks to these lapses, the West Countrymen needed Nicky Robinson to kick a couple of goals by way of seeing them home.
Two things here. Firstly, it was Robinson who had butchered all his kicks when Gloucester fell to Exeter in the first round of matches. Secondly, the important shots here were 60-metre jobs that might have led Jonny Wilkinson himself to request a telescopic sight. Robinson had warmed up by smacking the near post from a wide position on halfway, and this near-miss did wonders for his confidence. When the do-or-die moments presented themselves in the 80th and 86th minutes, the Welshman did not look like failing.
The Wasps back-room contingent were not amused. Denied a possible penalty try when Riki Flutey and David Walder were tackled without the ball in the space of a single attack, they felt almost as betrayed by the officials as by their own players, who, as the director of rugby, Tony Hanks, put it, "showed insufficient respect for the ball".
In a contest decided by inches rather than feet or yards – David Walder missed narrowly with a Robinsonesque shot of his own at the death – the team making marginally less mistakes deserved to prevail.
Gloucester Try: Fuimaono-Sapolu. Conversion: Taylor. Penalties: Taylor 3, Robinson 2. Wasps Tries: Ward-Smith, Simpson. Conversions: Walder 2. Penalties: Walder 2.
Gloucester: C Sharples; J Simpson-Daniel, T Molenaar, E Fuimaono-Sapolu (M Tindall 66), L Vainikolo; T Taylor (N Robinson h-t), R Lawson (capt, D Lewis 68); N Wood, O Azam (S Lawson 52), P Doran-Jones (P Capdevielle 69), D Attwood, J Hamilton (A Brown 68), A Strokosch, A Hazell, B Deacon (L Narraway 72).
Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; T Varndell (R Haughton 62), D Waldouck (B Jacobs 62), R Flutey, D Lemi; D Walder, J Simpson (N Berry 68); T Payne, J Ward (R Webber 52), P Vickery (capt), S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, S Betsen (C Beech 32-37, A Powell 62), D Ward-Smith.
Referee: A Small (London).
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