Gloucester Rugby: Honours for Nick Wood and Alex Brown
GLOUCESTER 20 CARDIFF BLUES 8
MEASURED Nick Wood prides himself on his emotional equilibrium.
A shrewd calm among all that front-row madness has long since served as a trusty modus operandi.
But a specially-embroidered shirt hand delivered by Gloucester's new boss, in the bowels of Kingsholm at just about 2pm on Saturday shattered that stiff upper lip.
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The testimonials are so thick and so fast at Gloucester, they are almost verging on commonplace.
The smart touch of keepsake shirts for Wood and stalwart lock Alex Brown brought right back into razor-sharp focus the sheer commitment, longevity and frankly, ability, required to last ten whole years with the Cherry and Whites.
After a decade's sterling Kingsholm service, no man will begrudge the powerful front-rower a moment's reflection.
Forget the score or the performance a second, Wood and Brown fully merit their testimonial honour.
And for the loosehead prop from Cirencester, receiving that special shirt in front of his peers and best mates brought about an uncharacteristic wobble.
"Nigel presented both of us with special shirts beforehand, embroidered with the details of the game," explained the humbled 29-year-old. "And that's something I'll always treasure.
"It was a very special and emotional moment for me.
"I'm normally pretty controlled emotionally, but that was pretty tough, being surrounded by my peers and with guys who have been at the club longer than me and that I've played with throughout my entire career.
"It was a special moment that I won't forget.
"And in the game, to be able to sit back and take it all in when we were replaced and came off the field, it really was something special."
Even amid the emotional maelstrom, Gloucester still had a pivotal warm-up battle to negotiate.
After the pomp and ceremony came the grind and the flair – though frustratingly there was more grapple than swashbuckle.
Flailing for fluidity, Gloucester fell back on a powerful scrum – hats off to Wood, Brown and Co – and the varied and clearly stellar talents of new recruit Billy Twelvetrees.
Sometimes new captures take time to warm to their task, but this guy is the real deal.
He might never throw a windmill dummy a la Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, but he has a howitzer clearance boot, a fine passing range, a keen eye for a gap – and no fear of crashing the line at pace.
A thunderous early tackle set the tone for a day where the 23-year-old from Chichester dominated proceedings.
Of all his many talents though, his willingness to drive in tight, stand up in the tackle and then recycle at speed perhaps shines through the brightest.
A pragmatic element sure, but such realism could yet prove the making of this new-look Gloucester squad.
Gloucester's attack misfired, too often too sloppy at the crucial pass or drive.
When first-half perseverance failed to deliver the craved dividend, Davies' men recalibrated.
More direct, more straightforward and more effective, Gloucester pared down their approach, and got the job done.
It was hardly up-the-jumper fare, but definitely a more rustic shift than has been on offer in recent times.
Too often last season Gloucester threw the ball wide without boring sufficient midfield inroads.
It seems Davies will not tolerate any such excursions to the fringes without the important grind through opposition hearts.
The Cherry and Whites found a way to win, and sometimes that is all that matters.
Had this been a league game, Davies' men would have won plaudits for overcoming their deficiencies.
But the pre-season reality remains that Gloucester must improve quickly in time for the Premiership opener against Northampton Saints on September 1.
Whatever the shortcomings here though, the Cherry and Whites are capable of ploughing through that work before that league deadline.
Twelvetrees' try was the clear first-half highlight, the rangy midfielder stepping through traffic to stretch over the whitewash in Gloucester's only complete attack of a disjointed 40minutes.
Gareth Davies and Twelvetrees traded penalties at the start of the second half, before Cardiff struck to make a game of it.
The stadium announcer called for the duty plumber – but it was Gloucester who let the water in.
The home side's barrier washed away as Harry Robinson scooted across to level the try-count, if not the scores.
It roused Davies' men, scalded by their lapse.
That less-complicated approach paid off – and so did a series of punishing scrums.
Henry Trinder dragged Tom Williams across his own line after a smart Twelvetrees grubber, forcing an attacking five-metre scrum for Gloucester.
Dan Murphy, Koree Britton and Shaun Knight demolished the Cardiff scrum, Sione Kalamfoni collected the ball at the base – but the set-piece crumbled.
From the inevitable penalty Gloucester then won a free-kick.
Kalamafoni drove in tight, Akapusi Qera ploughed over the line – but was held up.
Another scrummage, another annihilation – and this time a fully-justified penalty try.
Progress in sport is never linear: Gloucester took two attacking steps forward at Leinster, and now perhaps one back against Cardiff.
But fending off a lack of cohesion to find a detour to victory must still be lauded.
Not the finished article, but lessons learned in the midst of battle, and more to come this week.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas (R Cook, 55), C Sharples, H Trinder (D Locke, 74), M Tindall, I Clark, B Twelvetrees, D Robson (D Lewis, 50), N Wood (D Murphy, 58), T D'Apice (K Britton, 41), R Harden (S Knight, 50), W James (P Buxton, 70), A Brown (capt) (T Savage, 50), M Cox, A Hazell (A Qera, 41), B Morgan (S Kalamafoni, 50). Unused: T Taylor, T Molenaar, D Dawidiuk.
CARDIFF BLUES (FIRST HALF): D Fish, H Robinson, O Williams (G Evans, 13), R Patchell, T Williams, C Sweeney, L Jones, N Trevett, R Williams, S Andrews, R Copeland, J Down, M Cook (capt), J Navidi, L Hamilton.
CARDIFF BLUES (SECOND HALF): T Williams, H Robinson, G Evans (capt), C Allen, O Williams, G Davies, R Lewis, T Davies, A Kyriacou, T Filise, R Copeland, J Down, R Watts-Jones, T Young, A Pretorious.
REFEREE: Luke Pearce.