Preston sneaks it for Bath

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The Independent Online

In the West Country, the rugby gods have a Bath address. At least that was the conviction in Kingsholm last night and it was difficult to argue. Gloucester had the passion, Bath the sophistication, the luck, the front row and the goal-kicker and mere blood and guts are no match for that.

In the West Country, the rugby gods have a Bath address. At least that was the conviction in Kingsholm last night and it was difficult to argue. Gloucester had the passion, Bath the sophistication, the luck, the front row and the goal-kicker and mere blood and guts are no match for that.

If Gloucester were kicking themselves, they would almost certainly have missed. Responding magnificently to the captaincy of Ian Jones, Gloucester monopolised possession in every phase bar the scrum, and dominated territory, but as well as Bath marshalled their defence, the Cherry and Whites were almost criminally negligent.

In the first minute they won a penalty in front of the Bath posts. Instead of putting three points on the board, Andy Gomarsall took a tap and ran into a blind alley where he was duly mugged. A few minutes later they won another and ran that with the same result.

After 10 minutes, by which time the enmity between the rivals had already erupted into a punch-up, the principal protagonists being Olivier Azam and David Barnes, Gloucester won another penalty and chose to kick for goal even though this one was by far the more difficult. Byron Hayward, who could have had the confidence booster of an early goal, pushed it to the right of the post. Given the final scoreline all of this was crazy.

So too, at the end, was the behaviour of John Hall, the Bath forwards coach. Before disappearing into the tunnel, the former England player gestured provocatively to the crowd and mouthed comments which were not along the lines of "bad luck".

Bath have rarely spent so much of a match on the back foot but after emerging with four points from the heart of enemy territory, they could believe they can survive anything. Gloucester, however, were suckers for the counter-punch which Bath delivered with uncanny timing.

Bath came within a whisker of opening the scoring when Mike Catt, finding space down the middle, broke clear, chipped ahead and was about to score when Dave Lougheed got across to place a hand on the ball. From the scrum five, Matt Perry's pace on the right was just enough to allow Rob Thirlby to squeeze in at the corner.

Gloucester, beset by injuries even before the season started, had flown Lougheed, who left Leicester at the end of the season, from Canada. Today the wing will return home to begin a business degree course. If Gloucester make him an offer he can't refuse, the degree can wait. Philippe Saint André, the coach, might have been tempted to play but apparently had he done so it would have tipped the salary cap beyond the peak.

It's not only on the wing that Gloucester have been severely hit. Yesterday their makeshift front row was frequently wheeled, giving Bath an invaluable bonus.

After Hayward landed a penalty to make it 3-5, the Gloucester front three lost a put in, were penalised for collapsing and Jon Preston kicked the goal. Worse was to follow for the Gloucester forwards, who were rampant in every other department. Hayward kept missing kicks at goal - his fourth failure hit an upright - before Gomarsall took over, successfully at first, to make it 6-8 at half time.

When Gloucester were wheeled yet again at the opening scrum of the second half, Preston did the honours. It wasn't until the 48th minute that Gloucester's drive broke the Bath defence, Gomarsall capitalising on good work by Chris Fortey, Terry Fanolua and Chris Yates: 11-11.

Preston and Gomarsall exchanged penalties but, in between, the Gloucester scrum- half missed two others, one a sitter. No sooner had he levelled the scores at 14-14, after Ben Clarke and Fortey had been shown yellow cards for fighting, than Catt kicked to the corner where a vicious bounce beat Fanolua and Lougheed but not Iain Balshaw.

At the end of normal time Preston landed his fourth penalty which meant that Gloucester would have to score twice to win. Now at their glorious best, they managed a try at the posts by Hayward, Gomarsall's conversion reducing the margin to a single point. By virtue of not losing by more than seven, a single point was Gloucester's sole reward for an afternoon of unstinting effort.

Daylight robbery comes to mind but in Bath's defence, the opportunity to pick Gloucester's pocket amounted to an open invitation.

Gloucester: T Fanolua; D Lougheed, J Ewens, C Yates, F Schisano (C Catling for 62),B Hayward, A Gomarsall; O Azam (S Simon, 58), C Fortey, A Powles (S Sanchez 69), R Fidler (M Cornwell, 48), I Jones (capt), J Boer (S Ojomoh, 45), J Paramore, K Jones (A Hazell, 48).

Bath: M Perry; R Thirlby (I Balshaw, 56), K Maggs, M Tindall, A Adebayo; M Catt (J Guscott 80), J Preston; D Barnes, M Regan, J Mallett, M Haag, S Borthwick, A Gardiner, N Thomas (D Lyle, 80), B Clarke (capt).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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