Gloucester 36-16 Mont de Marsan: Dirty tricksters are sent packing in dignified display
GOOD riddance to a team of trouble-makers who disregard some of this game's most intrinsic principles.
Underhand illegal ploys are everywhere in French rugby, and English teams have long since learned to cope.
Mont de Marsan, it seems, only revert to such base spoiling styles for one reason – when they have no other option left open.
Not for these dirty tricksters the nobility of losing with humility.
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Instead every time they stand at breaking point it is their honour that folds first.
Buckling on their own try-line amid a series of second-half power scrums from Gloucester, Mont de Marsan knew their game was up.
Despite only trailing 19-16 after producing impressive resistance for the first hour, the French Top 14 strugglers were incapable in the scrummage.
With replacement prop Mathieu Guidicelli in the sin-bin just a minute after joining the fray, their plight had worsened tenfold.
Gloucester made their extra man at the set-piece count and after the umpteenth deliberate collapse from the Frenchmen, one of their number took matters shamefully into his own boots.
There are only two basic rules of rugby, taught even to toddlers – not the eyes or the head.
Clearly Morgan Phelipponneau missed the memo.
The replacement front-rower could not cope with his scrum battering, so chose instead to kick Shaun Knight twice in the head.
Matson's fame obviously does not stretch to France's lower reaches either – brave, foolhardy or both the man who starts on a son of that stoic suburb.
Add this to the alleged frequent incidents of gouging when Gloucester edged to 11-6 victory at Stade Guy Boniface in October, and Mont de Marsan happily disregard both basic principles.
Over in France Andy Hazell lost his cool and paid his 14-week price – in the icy Kingsholm surroundings no Gloucester player followed suit.
The Cherry and Whites pledged to avenge Hazell's treatment through the rugby high ground.
And while again they struggled for full fluency they still had more than enough potency to see off this stubborn and reckless horde.
Knight shrugged off his shoeing and the Gloucester pack continued to shred the scrum.
Sione Kalamafoni powered off the base and dragged half the opposing pack in his wake.
Billy Twelvetrees fired a cut-pass out to Henry Trinder, and the fit-again centre barrelled home.
It was Gloucester's third try of the game, on the hour-mark – but the score that galvanised Nigel Davies' men.
Four minutes later Trinder was over the whitewash again, this time courtesy of a smart Charlie Sharples break and an even smarter piece of ingenuity from Martyn Thomas.
The Welsh full-back anticipated the tackle into touch and delayed just long enough to draw the man and pop inside, before he was bundled out of play, to keep the move alive.
Timing impeccable, Trinder happily added the finish.
With time running out Gloucester then produced the move of the match to rubber-stamp their march to the quarter-finals.
Thomas capped another fine counter-attack with a smart pop-up off the ground to the onrushing Huia Edmonds.
The replacement hooker raced through the ragged cover, before setting Jonny May free to romp into the left corner for his second score of the day.
A fitting riposte to October's Hazell furore, and clearly to the latest injustice doled out to Knight.
And a positive end after a frenetic and error-strewn first half.
Wings May and Sharples claimed impressive scores in the opening exchanges, but Gloucester failed to build on either.
May's smart finish in cramped left-wing conditions came at the expense of a knee injury to Freddie Burns, who remained in a heap after a quick-tap penalty.
Sharples raced in from halfway after a fine line-break from Twelvetrees, Burns' replacement.
Two tries to the good but only leading 16-9, as Mont de Marsan had Jean-Baptiste Claverie's boot to tick them over.
And then Thomas made the cardinal sin of kicking cheap, broken-field possession straight to the French side's only Fijian.
That man also happened to be Sevens superstar William Ryder, who unleashed a sunshine hitch-kick straight from the beach to leave the Gloucester cover in his wake.
Leicester-bound lock Sebastien de Chaves kept the move alive, before finding flanker Yann Brethous, who crashed over.
Claverie's conversion left the scores level at 16-16 at the break.
It was the latest in a long line of fits and starts for Gloucester, who continue the debilitating search for full fluency.
Too many or too few forwards raced into rucks in that first half – but seldom the right number.
Davies' men were simply out of kilter, and they knew it.
They also knew the French would crack if they cranked up the pressure.
After the turnaround that's exactly what Gloucester did, to fine dividend.
But to influence the latter stages of this competition – and the same goes for the Premiership – Gloucester must still discover far greater poise and balance.
Nigel Davies' season was always going to be a work in progress, and so far so relatively good: now it is time to step up to the craved extra levels.
MONT DE MARSAN: Y Durquet (T Duvallet, 70), J Beaulavon, S Lucu, T Mchedlidze, J-B Claverie (A Douvesy, 70), A Pic (J Cabannes , 41), J Florini (M Phelipponneau, 32), T Bordes, T Mailau (M Giudicelli, 70), S de Chaves, S Murray (capt), Y Brethous, V Farre (A Lescure, 41), A Ricaud (E dos Santos, 67). Unused: P Correia.
REFEREE: Dudley Phillips (IRE)