Bath's injury jinx struck again when their former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck was carried off early in the second half of a rugged West Country derby at Kingsholm yesterday. Victory and the ending of Gloucester's 34-match unbeaten home run, which stretched back to September 2001, was almost immaterial in the light of this latest blow.
Indeed if things continue as they are the Premiership leaders will not be able to field a back line. They had entered this match with 11 threequarters injured or at the World Cup. It emerged later that Fleck had fractured the tibia and fibula of his left leg and was operated on last night.
Ollie Barkley had an excellent game at fly-half, his first start there this season, and Michael Lipman on the openside was a pain at the breakdown. Gloucester had their chances but failed to capitalise.
In fact for the first quarter Bath were outplayed, conceding penalties, possession and position. That, to the frustration of the home fans, set the pattern for the game.
Gloucester did not gallop into a commanding lead, although their opening try promised much. James Simpson-Daniel came off his wing, took a pass from Henry Paul above his head and fed the full-back Jon Goodridge, who found the human cannonball Marcel Garvey on the right. The winger dived over the line from a couple of metres out. But a minute later Duncan McRae's attempted touch finder was charged down by Barkley, who then beat Goodridge to the touchdown and followed up with the conversion.
Overall, though, it was an untidy affair. Referee Roy Maybank did not need his conspicuous yellow and black outfit to be noticed, thanks to his persistent whistling, but there was also far too much scrappy play and not enough skill and excitement, at least not until after the interval.
Gloucester had gone in with a one-point advantage thanks to Paul's three penalties. But nine minutes into the second half Barkley broke clear and found Andrew Higgins, who offloaded to Fleck's replacement Robbie Kydd, who claimed the try. Barkley converted.
Gloucester dragged themselves back into the game and strung phase after phase together in a tidal wave of assaults on Bath's line. Garvey, Simon Amor, Paul and McRae pounded into the opposition, the Gloucester forwards scrapping for every ball. But every attempt was repelled.
Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, R Todd, H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Page (S Amor, 69); R Roncero (N Wood, 65), C Fortey, A Deacon (A Olver, 79), A Eustace (M Cornwell, 65), A Brown, J Boer (capt), J Forrester, P Buxton.
Bath: M Perry; W Human, A Higgins, R Fleck (R Kydd, 44), J Williams (P Sampson, 40); O Barkley, M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt, L Mears, 53), D Bell (M Stevens, 66), R Fidler, S Borthwick, A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 80).
Referee: R Maybank (Orpington).