Gloucester 27 Harlequins 25: Vainikolo preys on Quins' porous defence

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The Independent Online

When Lesley Vainikolo is bearing down at an unholy speed on a trembling defender it is enough to persuade the poor unfortunate to resort to prayer. But God is already on Vainikolo's side, because this Goliath of a wing, all 6ft 2in and 17 7lb of him, has said his prayers, pre-match.

The Tonga-born 28-year-old, who is known as "the Volcano", will also have read a passage from his Bible. Gloucester's former New Zealand rugby league international explained: "Religion is very important to me. Before every game I take my bible, a present from my mother when I began my playing career, and I put it on my jersey.

"I do that so the Bible will bless my jersey. Then I read a passage from it. Having blessed my jersey, I bless myself, then my team, then I thank God for giving us all the talent that we are using."

It seems to work. Vainikolo, who qualifies for a British passport next year, on completion of seven years' residence, made an explosive debut for Gloucester in September, scoring five tries against Leeds.

That passport will surely open the door into England's elite player squad, though Vainikolo would surely make an impression on union's international stage with England, Tonga or even New Zealand, the country where he lived from the age of five.

It is not a prospect to consume his every waking moment. "I have not thought about international union, at the moment I am just concentrating on Gloucester," he said as he savoured a win which maintained his side's leadership of the Premiership. "I never think ahead. I just let things happen."

His two tries, one in each half, against Harlequins at Kingsholm on Saturday brought his count to seven in three Premiership appearances and were instrumental in robbing the visitors of what had looked like being a hard-earned victory.

Despite scoring four tries inside 34 first-half minutes to secure one bonus point, Quins had to make do with just a second bonus point for finishing within seven points of the victors.

They were unhappy, especially with the performance of the referee, David Rose, but Dean Richards, their director of rugby, could not lay all the blame at the official's door. Quins, who were 25-10 ahead at one point in the first half, lost their way, the match and three more points as much through their own failings as Vainikolo's intervention and Rose's perceived shortcomings.

There were fine performances from Quins' England pair, Nick Easter and David Strettle, and the lock Ollie Kohn also shone, but they and their team-mates were blown away by a wing on a prayer.

Harlequins' league record at Kingsholm is dismal. They last won there in February 1999. Of course, there is always next year, so perhaps they should start praying now.

Gloucester: Tries Vainikolo 2, Tindall; Conversions Paterson 3; Penalties Paterson 2. Harlequins: Tries Keogh 2, Monye, Malone; Conversion Malone; Penalty Malone.

Gloucester: O Morgan; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall, A Allen, L Vainikolo; C Paterson (R Lamb, 65), G Cooper (R Lawson, 46); P Collazo (A Dickinson, 65), A Titterrell (O Azam, 46), C Nieto, W James (L Narraway, 46), M Bortolami, P Buxton (capt; A Strokosch, 58), A Hazell, G Delve.

Harlequins: M Brown; S Keogh (J Turner-Hall, 69), D Strettle, De Wet Barry, U Monye; C Malone, A Gomarsall (S So'oialo, 65); C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross, O Kohn (J Percival, 61), N Spanghéro, C Robshaw, P Volley (capt; R Nebbett, 57; W Skinner, 69), N Easter.

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).

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