Premiership: Feeble Gloucester face pack problem after defeat by Exeter at Kingsholm

Gloucester 12 Exeter 29

Kingsholm

There was precisely one second left on the clock when an 18st England age-group lock by the name of Elliott Stooke had the ball smashed from his grasp in the act of scoring by the equally youthful but significantly less substantial Henry Slade, a mere stripling of an outside-half who would barely threaten the 13st mark if he stood on the scales dripping wet.

This pretty much summed up the previous 79 minutes plus. Gloucester are so weak up front these days, they struggle to knock the skin off a rice pudding even when the other lot are already celebrating.

Mike Rafter, a ferociously competitive England flanker back in the day, could scarcely believe his eyes. During a long and bruising stint in the Bristol pack, the man known as “the grafter” made many a trip to Kingsholm and was invariably reduced to his component parts. Back in front of the Shed yesterday in his official capacity as  citing officer, he must have left the stadium thinking: “Just my luck. I got to play against Blakeway, Fidler and Teague; today’s generation get to play the Beverley Sisters.”

No one expects any citing activity after this, unless Rafter charges the Gloucester pack with horizontal pacifism in the first degree. Exeter’s record victory on this particular rectangle of rugby terrain – once a fortress, now a Wendy house – might easily have been more comprehensive still, such was the dominance of their tight five in all aspects of the close-quarter contest: scrum, maul, ruck, the whole caboodle.

The consequences could be severe, not just for Gloucester’s lightweights in the front and second rows, but for back-rowers and midfielders with  immediate England ambitions, like Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan, Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees. The open-side flanker Kvesic cannot hope to make up the necessary ground on the national captain Chris Robshaw if he spends his weekends on the back foot, and the same goes for Morgan, who is not only slipping behind Billy Vunipola of Saracens in the race to bag the No 8 spot against the Wallabies in a little under four weeks’ time, but can feel the heat being applied by a couple of extremely useful Premiership newcomers.

One of them is Sam Dickinson of Northampton, whose eye-catching performances during the opening tranche of league matches cannot be explained simply by the fact that he is as bald as a coot. Another is Dave Ewers, who caused Gloucester no end of grief in this game. Ewers is a Zimbabwean – his extended family were among the victims of Robert Mugabe’s unusually aggressive approach to land reform – but he has not committed himself to any country in particular and is, as things stand, eligible for England.

Asked about Ewers’ representative situation, the Exeter rugby director, Rob Baxter’s first reply was a long “Ssshhh…” – the time-honoured response of a coach who would like to keep his secret weapon secret for just a little longer. He then came up with a variation on the old: “What does an  elephant eat? Whatever it wants” joke. “Dave could play for Zimbabwe, for South Africa, for England – basically, he could play for whoever he likes,” Baxter said.

Ewers was outstanding, as was the Wallaby lock and new Exeter captain Dean Mumm. Between them, they packed too much of a punch – physically, dynamically, every which way – for the over-matched Gloucester pack. But as both Baxter and his ashen-faced opposite number Nigel Davies readily acknowledged, front-foot rugby is immeasurably easier than the other kind.

“We have to man up,” Davies conceded. “Exeter put us under huge pressure and we didn’t deal with it. We were out-muscled in most departments and the pack will be disappointed, so now is the time for them to find some unity and bring it to the fore. We knew what to expect from Exeter, but we didn’t plan for what happened out there. The forwards will admit it wasn’t good enough. Me? Let’s say I don’t expect it to continue.”

There was a moment during the first half, in which the Devonians scored a close-range try through the flanker Ben White and would have been out of sight had  Hoani Tui been awarded a similar score by the television match official and Gareth Steenson’s goal-kicking radar been working a little more reliably, when Davies could be seen kicking the advertising boards in frustration. He was also spotted punching the self-same hoarding and it would have been no great surprise had he dropped to his knees and given the offending sign a Millwall kiss.

You could see his point, for at this stage Gloucester were wasting what little possession they had, either by chucking it on the floor or throwing wide passes straight into Row Z. Burns and Twelvetrees, two creative spirits who, all things being equal, will surely pair up for England at some point this season, were both culpable. There again, they were betrayed by the men in front of them. They tried everything they knew to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it would have been a pig of a task for Daniel Carter and Conrad Smith, let alone them.

There was just one flash of midfield mastery and it came early, towards the end of the first quarter. Tom Savage, the Gloucester captain, did well from the restart following Steenson’s opening penalty and after his fellow lock James Hudson had provided some unexpected linkage, Twelvetrees sent Martyn Thomas haring over the Exeter line with an exquisite inside pass. Sadly for the big Kingsholm crowd, the home side would not trouble the scorers again until the last quarter of an hour, by which time the argument had been decisively lost.

By way of adding insult to injury, the man asked to do the on-field interview duties during half-time was the  suspended Nick Wood, by some distance Gloucester’s most accomplished front-rower. “There are a couple of set-piece issues that need addressing,” Wood said quietly, perhaps hoping that no one would hear. As that much was blindingly obvious to everyone in the ground, he could have stayed mute.

Gloucester: Tries M Thomas, May; Conversion Burns. Exeter: Tries White, Mumm; Conversions Steenson 2; Penalties Steenson 5.

Gloucester M Thomas (J May 63); C Sharples, M Tindall, W Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, T Knoyle (D Robson 53); Y Thomas (D Murphy 49), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds 63), R Harden (S Knight 36), T Savage (capt, E Stooke 56), J Hudson, S Kalamafoni, M Kvesic (A Qera 56), B Morgan (G Evans 56).

Exeter P Dollman; M Jess, I Whitten, S Hill (H Slade 67), T James (F Vainikolo 49-53 and 78); G Steenson, D Lewis (H Thomas 52); B Sturgess (B Moon 63), C Whitehead (J Yeandle 53), H Tui (C Rimmer 63), D Mumm (capt), D Welch (D Armand 49-52 and 78), T Johnson, B White (K Horstmann 60), D Ewers.

Referee M Carley (Kent).

 

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone