Flutey helps Exiles conquer Kingsholm

Gloucester 9 London Irish 13
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The meeting at Cheltenham was called off yesterday because of the freezing conditions, but it was Gloucester who were not at the races.

Despite a frantic, frenetic final 10 minutes when Gloucester tore up and down the field in a crazed attempt to steal victory from London Irish, they were ultimately thwarted. If there was any good news it was that none of Gloucester's England contingent appeared to have suffered any injury, which should be of some relief to the national coach, Andy Robinson.

But there was little else for home fans to cheer on the day that Phil Vickery, of Gloucester and England, underwent a third operation in three years on his troublesome back.

The game was partly dictated by conditions and partly by the superior Irish line-out. And with the players preferring the close-quarter stuff to the wide-open spaces, attacking rugby was the exception rather than the rule. What attacks there were either foundered on the defensive reefs protecting the in-goal area, or were marred by passing or handling errors.

The numbingly low temperature had a big say in how well a pass was delivered and received, and a number of moves should have been halted because of inaccurate passing.

The referee, Jonathan Kaplan from South Africa, is allegedly one of the best match officials, if not the best, in the world, but judging by the number of Irish forward passes he missed, perhaps there should be a revision of that standing.

Of course, when Gloucester's Peter Richards slung out an illegal pass Kaplan incited the hatred of the whole city as he pulled play back to the site of the offence as James Bailey looked to be free and clear.

Kaplan also seemed to overlook a possible case of crossing when Rikki Flutey appeared to duck behind his outside-centre Nils Mordt in the build-up to a dangerous Irish attack.

Kaplan is over here to "acclimatise" in the run-in to the Six Nations' Championship, but given that he is a full-time ref-eree, surely acclimatisation is unnecessary. If it is, then one match is not enough, especially when you are more used to the Super 12 and the Tri-Nations. Either way it is a non-starter of a policy, and at the finish the Kingsholm crowd greeted the South African with a chorus of booing.

There was a lot more hanging on this match than might have appeared obvious at first glance. At stake was a chance to open up a cushion of points between the all-important fourth play-off place and the also-rans.

Gloucester did take the lead, when Ludovic Mercier knocked over his second penalty, but that was soon countered by Irish through Flutey and thereafter the first half was hammered flat on an anvil of attrition.

There was the odd flare-up in the furnace up front, but too often the steely action was cooled off in the cauldron of cold water that was the aimless kicking by both sides.

Not until the brink of half-time was there any sign of an end tothe stalemate, when Gloucester conceded a penalty. From the ensuing line-out the Argentinian No 8 Juan Leguizamon was driven over by the power of the Exiles' pack. Flutey converted.

When Flutey landed his second penalty shortly after the start of the second half it began to look bleak for Gloucester. Almost 20 minutes and some untidy action later they did reduce the gap with a second Mercier penalty, but that was as close as they were to get to their opponents.

The Exiles, having climbed all over the Cherry and Whites, also clambered up the table on the back of this win.

Gloucester: O Morgan; M Garvey (R Keil, 51), J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall, J Bailey; L Mercier, P Richards; P Collazo, M Davies, G Powell, A Eustace, A Brown, P Buxton, J Boer, A Balding (capt; J Forrester, 51).

London Irish: M Horak; D Armitage (S Tagicakibau, 51), N Mordt, M Catt (capt), T Ojo; R Flutey, P Hodgson; N Hatley (M Collins, 80), D Coetzee (D Paice, 80), F Rautenbach, R Casey, N Kennedy, K Roche, O Magne (K Dawson, 51), J-M Leguizamon (P Gustard, 40).

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).