Gloucester 24 Bath 19: Hazell's pace leaves Bath gasping for breath

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The Independent Online

Gloucester's two wet-weather tries were distinguished by some fly-paper handling, which was quite a departure from tradition. Bath, meanwhile, bucked a trend of their own when, in the first couple of minutes, both Danny Grewcock and Andrew Higgins, tempestuous sorts with yellow-card material in their DNA, chose not to throw big right hands in the direction of opponents doing their level best to wind them up. Who was it who called the Premiership predictable? Step forward Andy Robinson, and explain these developments to us.

The England coach has been fiercely critical of standards in the bread-and-butter domestic game, but even he must have been partial to some of the skills displayed by the home side - not to mention their tempo, which was above and beyond anything that could reasonably have been expected in the conditions. But for the catching talents of Mefin Davies and Anthony Allen, both of whom would have done justice to the first-slip position, neither Jack Adams nor Olly Morgan would have crossed the Bath line. Morgan's try also owed something to Andy Hazell's startling impersonation of an even-time sprinter.

Cynics, of whom there are many in the Kingsholm Shed, are generally suspicious of a flanker who runs like Carl Lewis, on the grounds that flash loose forwards make 30-metre breaks only when they are slacking elsewhere. They are not in the least suspicious of Hazell, however.

As Dean Ryan, the victorious director of rugby, said afterwards: "People like Andy and Peter Buxton define what this place is about. They are the glue in the team." It sounded as though he would be sticking with them.

Thanks to the Hazell-Buxton axis in the back row, Gloucester shaded their West Country rivals around the field. Bath expected to dominate the set-pieces, but Marco Bortolami and Alex Brown rumbled their Rolls-Royce line-out. At the same time, any scrummaging superiority they felt they possessed was diluted by the authoritative Sean Davey's refereeing of the engagement - Steve Meehan, the visiting coach, was less than entertained by this aspect of the proceedings - and by the resourceful contribution of Christian Califano, who played a blinder.

A few years ago, a French panel placed Califano alongside Philippe Dintrans and Robert Paparemborde in the greatest Tricolore front row of all time. The Bath props who faced him at the weekend will now have a better idea as to the whys and wherefores of that decision.

Scrummaging could become a running sore of the campaign. The referees, recently alerted to the just-legal shenanigans employed by the All Blacks, are quite properly making it their business to ensure a fair contest, but there is no agreed means of going about it. Meehan felt his forwards had received mixed messages about what was legitimate and what was not, and as prop forwards tend to be easily confused, this was not entirely to the liking of David Flatman and Duncan Bell. "It cost us on a couple of occasions," the coach said, sorrowfully.

Yet Gloucester did not make it through another derby day because of a marginal scrum-call or two. They got home because the likes of Buxton, Hazell and Allen made bigger plays then their opposite numbers, although the rumbustious Grewcock, who generally troubles the referee more often than the scorer, was thoroughly deserving of his two tries, the second of which was from a distance of 20 metres - the second-row forward's equivalent of John O'Groats to Land's End.

Even if the England hierarchy remain unconvinced about the Premiership in general, they will sleep easier in the knowledge that the one true enforcer in the English game is already operating at Test pitch, two months before the All Blacks arrive.

Gloucester: Tries Adams, Morgan; Conversion Walker; Penalties Walker 4. Bath: Tries Grewcock 2; Penalties Barkley 3.

Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw (J Adams, 40), R Keil, A Allen, M Foster; W Walker, P Richards (R Lawson, 62); N Wood (J Forster, 51), M Davies (O Azam, 74), C Califano, M Bortolami (capt), A Brown (W James, 74), P Buxton, A Hazell, J Forrester.

Bath: M Stephenson; A Higgins, R Davis, O Barkley, D Bory (J Maddock, 37); S Berne, N Walshe; D Flatman (D Barnes, 55), L Mears, D Bell, D Grewcock, S Borthwick, P Short, M Lipman (I Fea'unati, 39-40 & 47), G Delve.

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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