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Rugby Union

Mercier the merciless flays Bristol

Bristol 6 Gloucester 34

The vast numbers of overseas players in the English game can hardly be expected to have absorbed the emotional and tribal significance of these matches, and while there was nothing noticeably anodyne about this Powergen Cup match at the Memorial Ground, the passion and intensity were missing. Priorities have changed, and the public are not fooled.

The sheer familiarity of today's game - Gloucester play Bath on this weekend, and these two met three weeks ago - deprives spectators of a sense of occasion. A crowd of 11,558 watched that Premiership match. Less than half that number attended yesterday.

Crushed 41-9 at home so recently, at least Bristol played as if they wanted to put the memory of that defeat behind them. They also played with a refreshing liberty, if with disconcerting ineffectiveness. They might have been a lot closer at the break had Jason Strange not missed a straightforward penalty when his side were only four points adrift.

To make matters worse, Bristol then shipped a second try when the hugely influential No 10 Ludovic Mercier slid a little grubber into the path of James Simpson-Daniel, who touched down in stoppage time to make it 20-6 to Gloucester at the break.

Mercier had deceived the home defence with a little shimmy in the eighth minute to put Peter Buxton across the line. The Frenchman converted both tries and kicked two penalties, while Strange kicked two for Bristol. Gloucester looked in charge, if not in total command.

But Mercier had a hand in Gloucester's third try, which Mark Cornwell claimed, before Simpson-Daniel got a second - and very nearly a third - while Mercier wrapped it up with two more conversions.

Simpson-Daniel, who looked sharp, was named man of the match. It could easily have been Mercier.

So the men from Kingsholm are on track for the semi-finals and are growing in confidence. With Mercier to run the show in Saturday's derby at the Recreation Ground, Bath will have to be at their best to halt this Gloucester run.

Bristol: Penalties Strange 2. Gloucester: Tries Buxton, Simpson-Daniel 2, Cornwell; Conversions Mercier 4; Penalties Mercier 2.

Bristol: B Stortoni (V Going, 66); S Marsden, R Higgitt, M Contepomi (M Denney, 69), D Lemi; J Strange (D Gray, 69), J Rauluni; D Hilton, S Nelson (N Clark, 54), D Crompton (M Irish, 69), M Sambucetti (R Winters, 66), G Llewellyn, M Salter (capt), D Ward-Smith, G Lewis (J El Abd, 54).

Gloucester: R Thirlby; M Garvey, T Fanolua, A Allen (H Paul, 68) , J Simpson-Daniel; L Mercier (B Davis, 68) , H Thomas (P Richards, 60); P Collazo (N Wood 68), O Azam (M Davies, 40), P Vickery (capt), A Eustace, M Cornwell, P Buxton (A Hazell, 60), J Boer, L Narraway.

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).