Certain principles have been established in the 109 years since Bristol and Gloucester first squared up in the name of West Country tribalism, one of which dictates that these particular derby get-togethers are strictly for grown-up nasties with cauliflower ears instead of acne and battle scars where their pimples used to be. Yesterday, everything changed. Mike "The Greek" Fry and Mickey "Never Stay Down" Burton may still be revered as the arch-exponents of M5 mayhem, but a 20-year-old rookie by the name of James Forrester altered the ground rules for good in the most pulsating cup tie for many a long season.
Forrester scored three tries, his second hat-trick of the season, to earn what was effectively a second-string Gloucester side a victory of significant proportions. A No 8 by preference, he was entrusted with the open-side duties and promptly ran Bristol ragged. His first try was a classic in anyone's currency, his second an instinctive intervention by a natural finisher, his third an opportunist effort with a touch of good fortune about it. All of them owed everything to the one God-given quality that distinguishes the best from the rest: extreme pace. No wonder the lad is in England's seven-a-side squad.
"I played First Division rugby in France at 17, so I am not scared to put young players on to the field," said Philippe Saint-André, whose future as Gloucester's director of rugby is the subject of daily debate in Cherry and White land. "Would I have played such an inexperienced side in a Premiership match? I cannot answer that. But I said to the new players before this game: 'This is an opportunity for you. Show me you are good enough for the first team.' They showed me that. Now I have a selection problem."
This was an extraordinary triumph for Saint-André. Gloucester folk would mourn defeat in a slug-racing contest if the rival slug was dressed in Bristol colours, and there were grumbles aplenty when the Frenchman announced a starting line-up featuring only one automatic first-choice act: Mark Cornwell, the lock forward. Had the visitors gone seriously belly-up – and when Bristol scored a blinding opening try through David Rees inside two minutes, the portents were not good – he might well have replaced the effigy of Francois Pienaar that hangs from a stanchion in the Kingsholm Shed.
As it was, Saint-André left the Memorial Ground with three cherries in his fruit machine. Of the newcomers on show, Jon Goodridge oozed calm authority at full-back, James Simpson-Daniel justified at least some of the hype surrounding his name, and Pierre Caillet, a 21-year-old loose forward from Brive, gave the Bristol back row all manner of grief in the driving play. But it was Forrester, playing intelligently off the outstanding Adam Eustace, who hit the jackpot.
Terry Fanolua, all haircut and aggression, had levelled the argument at 10-10 when the flanker, Oxfordshire-born but a product of the Gloucester academy, announced himself to the world a minute before the interval. Bristol were pressing hard towards the right corner when Simpson-Daniel hit Rees with a full-frontal tackle and seized on the loose ball before sprinting into opposition territory. Forrester, fast and beautifully balanced, hared up on his left shoulder, took the pass without breaking stride and outstripped the cover to finish at the left flag.
Fourteen minutes into the second period, he was at it again. Gloucester had fallen behind by then – Lee Best, a forthright runner from deep, had used his size to maximise a multi-phased attack and open up a two-point advantage – when Forrester found himself in space from a tapped free-kick. In an instant, he spotted the Bristol hooker Neil McCarthy in an exposed position, slipped into overdrive and cruised over unopposed.
Bristol were not quite dead; indeed, Felipe Contepomi levelled it once more at 23-apiece with a penalty on 70 minutes. But with Phil Vickery, Federico Pucciarello and Junior Paramore coming off the bench, the momentum was with the visitors. Forrester duly broke the home resistance with a kick-and-chase score of questionable legality following one of Eustace's many turn-over contributions in midfield, and Gloucester underlined their superiority with an injury-time try from Marcel Garvey, who capitalised on a 20-metre stampede from the ever-aggressive Vickery.
Next week, Saint-André will continue his contractual discussions with Tom Walkinshaw, Gloucester's owner. The sight of a leather-jacketed Walkinshaw jumping for joy amongst the Cherry and White hordes thronging the terraces indicated that the talks would be conducted in seasonal spirit.
Bristol: Tries Rees, Best; Conversions Contepomi 2; Penalties Contepomi 3. Gloucester: Tries Forrester 3, Fanolua, Garvey; Conversions Paul 3; Penalties Paul 2.
Bristol: L Best; D Rees, P Christophers, J Little (capt), S Brown (A Higgins, 46); F Contepomi, A Pichot; P Johnstone (T Payne, 62), S Nelson (N McCarthy, 46), D Crompton, B Sturnham, A Brown, C Short, A Vander, J Brownrigg.
Gloucester: J Goodridge (L Mercier, 47); J Frape (M Garvey, 78), T Fanolua, R Todd, J Simpson-Daniel; H Paul, D Yachvili (A Gomarsall, 51); T Woodman (F Pucciarello, 62), C Fortey, A Deacon (capt, P Vickery, 62), M Cornwell, A Eustace, K Sewabu (A Hazell, 73), J Forrester, P Caillet (J Paramore, 55).
Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).Reuse content