"Form counts for nothing in these local derbies" was the shameless announcer's pre-match exhortation to the Bristol fans. "And these Christmas matches are a one-off." Except it does and they are not. When the passion has been stripped down, the fight worn out and the roar reduced to a croak, class invariably comes through. As it did for Gloucester in an emphatic finish.
Mike Tindall was the hero of a devastating burst of 19 points in the final 11 minutes, scoring two tries and so grabbing the perennial play-off contenders a precious bonus point in the process. The veteran centre's credentials for an England recall are obvious. When one sees Tindall taking the kind of deliciously subtle and destructive angle that he did for his first try and then performing a wonderful pick-up and summoning the power to crash over for the all-important five-pointer, it is difficult not to believe he would have been of some use in that train wreck of an autumn series.
Many Bristolians would doubtless agree. It was a chilling end to a week where promise had once more reared its beautiful head at the Mem. All the talk has been about investors who have ensured the immediate survival of the club and of some resurgent recent results dragging Newcastle into a head-to-head for the relegation place. At least Worcester's fightback for a draw at Kingston Park yesterday will have renewed that vigour somewhat, and they can console themselves in keeping Gloucester within touching distance for the first 69 minutes.
In truth, it did not get any better for the visitors in that opening period than Olly Morgan's hop and waltz through in the eighth minute. Four sets of hands managed to miss the sometime England full-back. It would be nice to comment that it was a taster of the free-flowing fare to come. It wasn't.
Yet Gloucester might well have added a couple more in that first half, but for an interception by the ever-impressive David Lemi here and a bit of cynicism by Shaun Perry there. The Cherry and Whites were left taking pot-shots at penalties. Perry, Bristol's captain of all things, was shown the yellow card for deliberately killing the ball on his own line on the brink of the break, but Ryan Lamb missed the shot at goal and then another and at 10-3 down Perry and Bristol would have figured it had just about been worth it. They were within a score and perhaps should not have been. All that was required was to survive the 10 minutes and summon some old-fashioned Bristol brawn.
The introduction of Mark Regan inspired the home pack to give it some go-forward, but it was too little and not late enough. Gloucester soaked it up and Tindall pounced first in the 69th minute and then in the last seconds. In between, Lesley Vainikolo had grabbed Gloucester's third try and Lemi had run over for Bristol in what was supposed to be a consolation. Tindall ensured otherwise.
Bristol: L Arscott; L Robinson, Neil Brew, L Eves (Nathan Brew, 65), D Lemi; E Barnes (A Jarvis, 65), S Perry (capt); D Crompton, S Linklater (M Regan, 40), J Hobson (M Irish, 51); M Sambucetti (D Attwood, 74), R Sidoli, N Budgett (J Phillips, 74), D Ward-Smith, A To'oala.
Gloucester: O Morgan, M Watkins, M Tindall (capt), O Barkley, L Vainikolo; R Lamb, R Lawson (D Lewis, 51); N Wood (A Dickinson, 78), O Azam (A Titterrell, 80), C Nieto, W James (A Eustace, 74), A Brown, A Strokosch, L Narraway, A Satala. Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).