Williams' extra effort sends Bath to final

Gloucester 19 - Bath 24
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There are defeats, there are cup semi-final defeats and - most damaging of all to the Kingsholm soul - there are cup semi-final defeats against bloody Bath in bloody extra time. Gloucester last found themselves in this supremely diabolical circle of sporting hell more than a decade ago, when the visiting backs let rip after an even 80 minutes and sprinted away with the spoils. Yesterday the pain was more lacerating still, for the Cherry and Whites were not beaten until the dying seconds of a monumental game of knock-out rugby.

There are defeats, there are cup semi-final defeats and - most damaging of all to the Kingsholm soul - there are cup semi-final defeats against bloody Bath in bloody extra time. Gloucester last found themselves in this supremely diabolical circle of sporting hell more than a decade ago, when the visiting backs let rip after an even 80 minutes and sprinted away with the spoils. Yesterday the pain was more lacerating still, for the Cherry and Whites were not beaten until the dying seconds of a monumental game of knock-out rugby.

To make matters worse, they were defeated by a single flash of inspiration from a Welsh scrum-half playing out of position on the wing; a player only recently signed on a short-term contract to alleviate the injury problems at the Recreation Ground, and one who would not have been within a hundred miles of a starting place had Mike Tindall or Robbie Fleck or Alex Crockett or Brendon Daniel been even half-fit. The name of this interloper from the far side of the Severn? Andy Williams. His current status in the Georgian city? Hero.

Neither side had managed to improve on the 19 points they had registered in normal time as the last, cramp-inducing seconds of the extra 20 minutes ebbed away. Bath, finally exercising a degree of control up front after quelling a furious uprising from an inexperienced Gloucester tight-forward unit, might already have had it in the bag had Chris Malone located Matt Perry with a simple try-scoring pass a few metres from the line, and this same Malone would certainly have ended the argument had his late drop goal attempt drifted in on the breeze rather than bounced off the outside of the right-hand post. As it was, there was nothing so much as a fag paper between the combatants.

Then, just as the capacity crowd were preparing themselves for the painful novelty of a football-style shoot-out - five drop goals rather than five penalties, but the same basic principle - it happened. Olly Barkley, always threatening at inside centre, boldly called for the ball to kept in hand and spun left, and after Perry had sprinted into the line at the optimum angle, Williams poked the ball behind the last remnants of the Gloucester defence, stole a few inches on the retreating Jon Goodridge and won the race to the touch-down in the left corner. The decision went "upstairs" to the video official, Geoff Warren, but Williams knew full well he had scored. Bath were celebrating long before the try was confirmed.

Gloucester were broken in mind, body and spirit. They had enjoyed much the better of the second 40 minutes - the try they scored as the clock ticked past the hour, created by James Simpson-Daniel and finished in explosive style by Seti Kiole, encapsulated everything that was good about their game - and but for Henry Paul's spectacularly wayward radar, which was pretty much off the screen all afternoon, they might well have pinched it. Certainly, their coaches were less than amused by the failure of the referee, Ashley Rowden, to give them a match-winning shot at the sticks during the last knockings of normal time.

"We need some clarification here," said Dean Ryan, who had seen his charges in the pack take a cap-laden Bath combination to the limit and beyond. "The referee awarded us the penalty, but didn't go back to it once the advantage was over. Now, we're in the last minute of a cup semi-final. What greater advantage could we have had than a kick at goal? Are we really saying that players should deliberately knock the ball on, just to secure the penalty? That can't be right, surely."

He had a point, very definitely. There again, Paul could and should have punished Bath for their wild indiscipline at the breakdown and given his side a day in the sun at Twickenham as a consequence. The former rugby league international spurned his customary headgear for this game - possibly because he was not planning on making too many tackles in the outside-half position, possibly as a means of addressing his sudden anonymity - but still contrived to fluff the rugby equivalents of two 18-inch putts. As a result, Gloucester spent most of the afternoon chasing when they should have been leading.

Malone, on the other hand, hit the spot with all four penalty attempts and also converted a fine first-half try from the otherwise humdrum Joe Maddock. It came after 18 minutes when Perry, highly effective at full-back apart from one embarrassingly public fumble, fielded a long kick downfield, set the ruck with characteristic expertise and freed Geraint Lewis on a long run down the left.

Lewis is no one's idea of a muscle-bound warrior - he must have the skinniest forearms of any forward in living memory - but he can thread a pass through the eye of a needle. His scoring delivery to Maddock was perfect, a moment of clarity amid the chaos.

The occasion would have been more chaotic still had it been dragged kicking and screaming into shoot-out territory, so everyone can be thankful for small mercies. Yes, even Gloucester. The sight of the hapless Paul taking five more shots at the sticks would have been too much for Cherry and White blood to stand.

Gloucester: Try Kiole; Conversion Paul; Penalties Paul 4. Bath: Tries Maddock, Williams; Conversion Malone; Penalties Malone 4.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, J Simpson-Daniel, T Fanolua, S Kiole; H Paul, A Gomarsall; N Wood (T Sigley, 81), N Curnier, G Powell, A Eustace, A Brown, P Buxton, A Hazell (M Cornwell, 91), A Balding (capt; J Boer, 24).

Bath: M Perry; A Williams, A Higgins, O Barkley, J Maddock (S Booth, 81); C Malone, N Walshe (M Wood, 91); M Stevens (Bell, 100), L Mears, D Bell (D Barnes, 86), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, G Lewis (Barnes, 46-49; G Delve, 71), J Scaysbrook, I Fea'unati.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).

Comments