Savage's Roundhead instinct dethrones Wasps
Gloucester 29 Wasps 22
Savage. Now there's a name for a Gloucester lock. Those of us who fondly remember the good old, bad old days in the Wild West Country– or, in the case of the squeamish, cannot forget them for love nor money – vividly recall the pugilistic havoc wreaked by generations of gnarled Cherry and White second-rowers whose Saturday afternoons were grievously incomplete if their opponents left Kingsholm in full possession of their faculties. Stealing a line-out ball in front of the Shed was akin to pickpocketing the Kray twins.
It is a different game now, but there was something about the way Tom Savage went about his work in the 29-22 win over Wasps at the weekend that struck a chord with the older generation of Gloucester watchers. No punches were thrown – there were no violent excesses of any kind, at least to the naked eye – but from the moment the 23-year-old from Shropshire greeted the 100-cap outside-half Stephen Jones with the mother and father of a first-up tackle, there was a whiff of danger about the place. If Jones was rugby royalty, Savage was cast in the Roundhead role. History told us there would be only one winner.
Gloucester are not entirely sure where Savage's optimum position might be: he is hardly a midget at 6ft 5in and 18st plus, but the best locks tend to offer still more when it comes to the tale of the tape. Sure enough, his lack of height contributed to the home side's difficulties at the line-out, where Wasps were armed with high-class operators in Tom Palmer and Marco Wentzel. But around the field, he was a proper handful – so much so that he appeared to be performing the blind-side flanker's duties as well as his own. If and when Nigel Davies hands him the No 6 shirt, the Kingsholm rugby director will have a serious player on his roster.
"Young players need the opportunity to play at the level they train," said the former Scarlets coach, who was almost as impressed with the contribution of a second youngster, the scrum-half Dan Robson. "That was the way I approached it during my time at Scarlets and I think it works. I thought Tom was outstanding. When you have a gut feeling about a player, it's nice to see him come through for the team."
And Gloucester are very much a team these days. Not so long ago, Wasps would have arrived at Kingsholm secure in the knowledge that their collective spirit, allied to vastly superior fitness levels, would see them right. Those advantages are no longer theirs to enjoy. The Londoners travelled with their sense of togetherness intact – no mean achievement, given the calamities and humiliations suffered under the recently departed owner Steve Hayes – but their hosts were able to match them in that department as well as keep pace in the final quarter.
Indeed, Gloucester would have built on the 17-point lead they established by the half-hour mark – a sugar-sweet strike from the sidestepping James Simpson-Daniel followed by a sucker-punch try direct from a ruck from Sione Kalamafoni, all nicely orchestrated by the fast-developing Freddie Burns at outside-half – with a little more discipline in the bread-and-butter areas of the game. Instead, they coughed up a soft score to Elliot Daly, albeit one brilliantly finished by the young centre, and allowed Jones to keep Wasps alive from the kicking tee.
Had the Londoners salvaged a draw at the death, as they might have done, many a Kingsholmite would have trudged off home muttering about the iniquities of the temporarily extended Television Match Official arrangement. Tommy Bell's penalty shot at the end of the first half deserved three points for brass neck alone – he was the best part of 60 metres distant – but many felt the ball drifted just wide of the right stick. At the very least, the officials should have asked for a review. Instead, they signalled the kick good and headed for the tunnel to a sour serenade of boos and hisses.
Later, a wholly innocent loose-ball chase between Billy Twelvetrees and Joe Simpson was given the full review treatment, for reasons no one could even begin to fathom. The sooner this dog's breakfast of a "trial" ends, preferably with convictions for all those responsible for sanctioning it, the better.
Gloucester: Tries Simpson-Daniel, Kalamafoni; Conversions Burns 2; Penalties Burns 5. Wasps : Try Daly; Conversion Jones; Penalties Jones 3, Bell, Robinson.
Gloucester R Cook; J May (M Tindall, 61), H Trinder, W Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns (M Thomas, 75), D Robson (D Lewis, 69); N Wood (D Murphy, 69), D Dawidiuk (K Britton, 75), R Harden (S Knight, 65), T Savage, J Hamilton (capt), S Kalamafoni (W James, 75), A Hazell (A Qera, 65), B Morgan.
Wasps T Bell; C Wade, E Daly, A Masi, T Varndell; S Jones (N Robinson, 69), J Simpson; T Payne (S McIntyre, 69), R Thomas (T Lindsay, 56), S Taulafo (F Staibano, 59), T Palmer, M Wentzel (capt), J Haskell, J Poff (W Vunipola, 56), A Johnson.
Referee M Fox (Leicestershire).
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