Paul puts history in the past

Gloucester 22 Munster 11
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The Independent Online

It is too early to talk of redemption but Henry Paul at least went some way last night towards exorcising the ghosts that have been haunting him for 12 months. He was instrumental in converting Gloucester's pressure into points, but the big question remains: will it be enough?

Judging by the extraordinary matches between these two clubs last year, the answer is in the negative. Then, in the first leg at Kingsholm, Gloucester comprehensively outplayed the Irish province, winning 35-16. It seemed that Gloucester, then the pre-eminent club in England, only had to travel safely to Limerick to book their passage through to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.

What happened next entered Irish folklore. Gloucester lost their head and their lead. Needing to win by 27 points and to score four tries in the process, Munster did just that in a 33-6 triumph.

The Cherry and Whites behaved like small furry animals trapped in the beam of a floodlight and the biggest rabbit of them all was Paul, who had a nightmare in defence before being mercifully replaced.

Yesterday, then, was something of a cathartic experience for the ex-rugby league star recruited to the West Country at great expense, and he fully deserved to be named the man of another engrossing match.

It did not look at all promising for Gloucester at half-time when Munster, twice beaten finalists in the Heineken Cup, withstood wave after wave of attacks which smashed against the rock of their well-organised and experienced defence. However, with Paul pulling the strings, the picture changed dramatically in the second half.

Paul had put Gloucester ahead with a penalty in the third minute after Munster, for the first but by no means the last time, made a mess of their own line-out throw. Eight minutes later, Ronan O'Gara levelled with a penalty via an upright on one of Munster's rare excursions into enemy territory. Munster did not win much possession, and when they did they kicked it aimlessly to their opponents, who ran it back with a style and purpose that accomplished everything but the end result - a try. They put together some great phases, but had O'Gara been successful with a goal kick in first-half injury time, he would have given his side an improbable lead.

As it was, the score of 3-3 bore no reflection to the play and when Munster launched a rare attack, in which Anthony Horgan and Rob Henderson were prominent, they won a penalty in front of the posts which O'Gara converted to make it 3-6.

Cue Paul. Gloucester needed something different to break down Munster's defence and Paul provided it. In the 46th minute, his perfectly placed grubber kick was well read by James Simpson-Daniel and the left wing easily won the race for the touchdown. Paul's conversion put Gloucester ahead 10-6.A couple of minutes later Paul triedthe same tactic again, putting in a chip towards the posts, where Anthony Foley did brilliantly to gather the ball from under the noses of Fanolua and Marcel Garvey.

Territorially, Gloucester were miles ahead and, as the second half wore on, they began to reap the benefit. In the 57th minute, Gordon McIlwham, who had just come on as a replacement for Marcus Horan, conceded a penalty in front of his posts. Paul made no mistake and added two more as Gloucester, at 19-6, began to compile a useful lead.

Munster, who had been very much on the back foot, gave their considerable support something to cheer when Peter Stringer took a tap penalty and Horgan crashed over for a try.

It was left to Paul to make some sense of the scoreline with a drop goal in the 78th minute before Donncha O'Callaghan was shown a yellow card for an offence on Andy Gomarsall.

The job for Gloucester is only half done. Next Saturday they travel to Limerick for the second leg and they know what to expect. Whether being forewarned is forearmed remains to be seen. Gloucester have Kingsholm, Munster have Thomond Park, both unadulterated, 100 per cent steaming cauldrons of union fanaticism. Home, for these two, is where the heart is.

Nevertheless, on the evidence of last night, not everything is as it was this time last year and perhaps the most promising aspect for Gloucester, aside from the form of Paul, were signs that O'Gara and Stringer are not what they were. Stringer, who is normally more annoying than the most venomous mosquito, had one of his least effective games, while his international partner kicked poorly. His passing was even worse. Next Saturday the pressure may not be so much on Gloucester and Paul, as on Stringer and O'Gara.

Gloucester 22 Munster 11
Try: Simpson-Daniel; Try: Horgan
Con: Paul
Pens: Paul 4; Pens: O'Gara 2
Drop: Paul

Half-time: 3-3 Attendance: 11,000

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua (R Todd, 67), H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Gomarsall; T Woodman, C Collins, A Deacon, A Brown, M Cornwell (A Eustace, 77), J Boer (capt), J Paramore, P Buxton.

Munster: S Payne; J Kelly, M Mullins, R Henderson, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (G McIlwham, 54), F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, J Williams (capt), A Foley, D Wallace.

Referee: N Williams (Bryncoch).