Will 2013 be the year of living dangerously for Leicester? It will be if referees, as Richard Cockerill emphasised immediately after this hard-fought win, fail to reward the expertise of his scrum.
Nearly every scrum awarded to Leicester ended in a home penalty and ultimately ensured the win and a move to second place in the Aviva Premiership. But Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, was incensed that in a game of four yellow cards (two of them to the Leicester half-backs, the smallest men on the field), Gloucester lost only one front-row forward, Shaun Knight, to the sin bin.
"We need to educate [referees] and, if they don't get it right, then they don't get the games," Cockerill, an England hooker during his playing days and still drilling set-piece values into today's players, said. "I'll show that game to Ed [Morrison, the RFU's manager of elite referees]. It's my belief the referee didn't understand what he was looking at.
"He needs to look at that game, see his faults and improve – like any player. If you get beaten you don't moan, but I want the rugby to decide, not the bloke in the middle making poor decisions."
Gloucester, who had beaten Leicester at Kingsholm in October, arrived at Welford Road believing their pack to be one of the most improved areas of their game. That mindset would have been like a red rag to the Leicester bull, and over the first quarter they dominated territory and possession yet could not translate that into points.
George Ford, a late promotion to fly-half after illness removed Toby Flood from contention, kicked his first penalty but missed two more. Freddie Burns, his opposite number, was far more assured in all he did, kicking two first-half goals, and a third early in the second half suggested this could be Gloucester's first win at Welford Road in five years.
At that stage, Ben Youngs was in the sin-bin after diving into a ruck, and on his return the England fly-half passed Ford heading in the opposite direction. It had not been a happy period for Ford, whose pass to Manu Tuilagi cannoned off the centre's head and allowed Burns to kick downfield into Leicester's 22, where Ford conceded the penalty for slowing down the ruck and earned his yellow card.
But it was while they were down to 14 men that Leicester effectively won the game. At last their pick-and-go game overcame the wet conditions, creating a try for Anthony Allen in the corner against his former club. Geordan Murphy, a part-time kicker at best, could not convert in Ford's absence, but the veteran full-back did kick the penalty which gave his side the lead after Will James became the second Gloucester forward to receive a yellow card.
Ford, back from exile, showed that he lacks nothing in composure by adding two more penalties. Yet Burns added his fourth goal and Gloucester showed how much they have improved by creating a nail-biting finish. "We'll take the point, realise that we weren't at our best but we were always competitive," Nigel Davies, their director of rugby, said.
More than that, they could have won the game in the final minute had Dan Robson been able to finish off Shane Monahan's midfield break. The replacement scrum-half was halted on the line, Charlie Sharples could not take an awkward pass in the right-hand corner and even then, Gloucester forced, irony of ironies, a scrum penalty which gave them a last tilt at the try which would have drawn the match. Leicester's relief when they forced a turnover was palpable.
Leicester G Murphy; N Morris, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Thompstone; G Ford (sin bin 45-55), B Youngs (sin bin 35-45); M Ayerza (L Mulipola, 59), T Youngs (G Chuter, 75), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 59), L Deacon (captain), G Parling, B Deacon (S Mafi, 49), J Crane, J Salvi.
Gloucester M Thomas; C Sharples, M Tindall (T Molenaar, 68), B Twelvetrees, S Monahan; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 68); N Wood (D Murphy, 55), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk, 64), S Knight (sin bin 24-35; D Chistolini, 55)), W James sin bin 54-64; T Savage, 64), J Hamilton (captain), S Kalamafoni, B Morgan, A Qera (Chistolini 25-35; M Cox, 68).
Referee A Small (London)
Pens: Ford 3, Murphy
Pens: Burns 4Reuse content