Gloucester 24 Bath 19: Walker tames the wild west

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The Independent Online

Having spent part of his summer pedalling up L'Alpe d'Huez on the gruelling 30 mile Tour de France stage route from Gap, Dean Ryan needed no reminding that he was setting out on a marathon rather than a sprint on the flat, rain-sodden earth of home ground yesterday.

As head coach of a Gloucester team carrying a Shed-load of expectation into the new season, the old back-row warrior turned charity pedal-pusher will have been happy - and not a little relieved - to see his Cherry and Whites find winning gear from the off. All the more so when the opposition happened to be from just down the road.

Not that it was freewheeling stuff. Ryan already had a clutch of blue chip players on the casualty list - James Simpson-Daniel, Ryan Lamb, Carlos Nieto, Jake Boer - when Mike Tindall fell victim to a strained calf before kick-off. Still, by the final whistle, it was Bath who were suffering from wounded West Country pride.

For Steve Meehan, Bath's acting head coach, there was to be no repeat of the attacking blitz he masterminded as backs coach to Stade Français in the Heineken Cup at Kingsholm two seasons ago. Gloucester had just too much creative, defensive and kicking clout for their rivals.

Olly Barkley stroked Bath into a third-minute lead but the right boot of Willie Walker became a decisive influence thereafter. A summer signing from Japan, the Kiwi fly-half fluffed his first pot at the posts but was on the button with four penalties as Gloucester bumped and ground their way to a hard-earned 12-6 advantage by the break.

Bath were also two men down at that stage, Steve Borthwick and Michael Stephenson having departed to the sin bin for deliberate spoiling in the face of mounting Gloucester pressure. There had been plenty of spills but only thrills of an agricultural nature until the Gloucestershire squall relented at the break and Gloucester found their touch.

Three minutes after the re-start Jack Adams, a replacement for Iain Balshaw, jinked over on the right - courtesy of some fine spadework by Mefin Davies and James Forrester. With Walker converting, Gloucester had the cushion and the momentum to ride the counter-blow of Danny Grewcock burrowing over from a close-range catch and drive.

The home response was a sweeping attack from deep that stretched Bath first one way, then the other, leaving Olly Morgan with the formality of an overlap score on the left. Gloucester, 24-11 to the good, had the game effectively in the bag.

Despite a galloping Grewcock score and a Barkley penalty they managed to make it a winning start for Marco Bertolami, their inspirational Italian captain. Not that there was any surprise there. Kingsholm was, after all, once the site of a Roman fortress.

Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw (J Adams, 40), R Keil, A Allen, M Foster; W Walker, P Richards (R Lawson, 60); N Wood (J Forster, 52), M Davies (O Azam, 72), C Califano, M Bortolami (capt), A Brown (W James, 71), P Buxton, J Forrester, A Hazel.

Bath: M Stephenson; A Higgins, R Davis, O Barkley, D Bory (J Maddock, 33); S Berne, N Walshe; D Flatman (D Barnes, 56), L Mears, D Bell, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, P Short, G Delve, M Lipman (I Feaunati, 38-40; 48).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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