One of the mysteries of the universe was that the Ospreys were sent back from Coventry yesterday with nul points. They dominated play, possession and territory and yet ended up looking as if they had been hammered. As immense as the Gloucester defence was, it still didn't explain how the Welsh glitterati lacked the confidence or nous to reach a third consecutive EDF Energy Cup final.
There wasn't much guidance on the issue from their coach, Sean Holley, a stand-in successor to the eccentric but clever Lyn Jones. "All credit to Gloucester, who did a job at the breakdown," he said. "We played all the rugby but that's the way it goes sometimes. We weren't clinical enough. We're disappointed to relinquish the title. We had a lot of momentum and a lot of territory but we couldn't break down the Gloucester defence."
The Cherry-and-White line held up magnificently in an extraordinary match which was marked not only by the demise of the Ospreys but also by that of the four players who limped off with a variety of leg injuries. Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester were receiving treatment by half-time, and for the Ospreys Gavin Henson and Ian Gough were also out of the action before the interval.
Many coaches insist that defence wins matches, and here Gloucester proved the point. Every lone raider the Ospreys produced was eventually smothered by three or four defenders. Gloucester threw a blanket over the Ricoh Arena and the Ospreys could not respond to the alarm clock.
Ryan Lamb kicked Gloucester to the final at Twickenham; his opposite number, James Hook, who must have fancied his chances of running this show, failed with two early penalty attempts and that was virtually that. The Ospreys had other penalty chances, but whether Hook didn't fancy them or his captain, Ryan Jones, thought that working the touchline was the better option was not clear. What was was that the Ospreys messed up big time and played into Gloucester's hands.
It was a day of redemption for the spring Lamb who, apart from the odd court appearance, has been confined to gambolling on the replacements' bench following the signing of the former All Black Carlos Spencer from Northampton. Spencer was cup-tied here and Lamb made the most of it. In the second minute he made the most of a lucky break when Olly Morgan, in a chip and chase, ran straight into Henson and Adam Jones and got the penalty. Lamb kicked it. He missed another on the stroke of half-time but Gloucester had the lead at 3-0.
Four minutes after the break, as the rain began to wash the statue of Lady Godiva, Lamb stroked over another penalty. While he was getting into his stride, Hook and the Ospreys were losing the plot. They lost the battle of the turnovers and, equally importantly, didn't have a shot at goal when presented with the chance to do so. They could not get a point on the board and in the modern game that amounts to a criminal offence. The Ospreys have a Heineken Cup quarter-final in Munster to come, and on this evidence you wouldn't give them a prayer.
Lamb made it 9-0 with a drop goal (Ryan Jones, also the captain of Wales, must have thrown up after seeing what Ronan O'Gara did in Cardiff last week), and he was helped in the cause by Morgan robbing Jonathan Spratt – Henson's replacement – of a high ball.
"The drop goal was crucial," Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, said. "We didn't have a platform to play off and every scrum was a mess. People said we couldn't come away from home and win big games. This side is in good shape."
It wasn't just any old people who pointed the finger at Gloucester's notorious frailty when it came to putting silverware into the cupboard. Morgan, the full-back who was named man of the match, admitted that over the past three years Gloucester had been "chokers", but said that this victory had been "absolutely massive". So it had, and maybe, just maybe, the Cherry and Whites have crossed the Rubicon. At least they are three- quarters of the way there.
After bringing on some of their biggest guns for the second half, the Ospreys were still not out of it. But their self-belief appeared to evaporate and Gloucester weren't finished. Lamb kicked another penalty in the 71st minute and five minutes later came the encapsulation of the match.
Shane Williams, not for the first time, produced an electric break. His runs were about the only things that came as a shock to Gloucester's defence. He went sprinting in to the 22, from where Mike Phillips delivered a long, high pass to nobody in particular. Iain Balshaw intercepted it to run about 80 yards for the game's only try.
Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw, M Tindall (capt; M Watkins, 28), A Allen, J Simpson-Daniel (O Barkley, 40); R Lamb, R Lawson; A Dickinson (C Nieto, 40), O Azam (S Lawson, 59), G Somerville, W James (M Bortolami, 67) A Brown, A Strokosch, G Delve, A Hazell (A Qera, 51).
Ospreys: G Henson (J Spratt, 37); T Bowe, S Parker, A Bishop (D Biggar, 68), S Williams; J Hook, J Nutbrown (M Phillips, 52), P James, R Hibbard (H Bennett, 57), A Jones, I Gough (A-W Jones, 25), A Lloyd (F Tiatia, 61), T Smith, R Jones (capt), M Holah.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
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