Savvy Gloucester wind down clock for vital victory over Leicester
GLOUCESTER 27 LEICESTER TIGERS 21
NIGEL Davies said Gloucester call it adaptability – but what he really meant was canny rugby nous.
Denuded by two sin-bins, Gloucester battled nine minutes of this game’s final quarter with 13 men and no scrum-half.
The best sides have a feel for momentum shifts though, and realising they were under the cosh, Gloucester started playing the clock to their advantage.
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The Cherry and Whites closed down their game, running down every second wherever possible, taking an eternity about each lineout and scrum – and looking after the ball for a number of one-out drive phases.
By the time Jimmy Cowan and Rob Cook returned to the field, Gloucester had conceded a penalty try – but they were still leading – and they managed to hold out until the death.
Cowan had killed the ball on the wrong side of a maul that turned into a ruck, while Cook had batted a Toby Flood cross-field out of play with Vereniki Goneva lurking and ready to score.
Rugby director Davies said the Gloucester boys talk about ‘adapting’ – but their savvy use of the clock is something the Cherry and Whites have been missing in recent years.
Davies’ Gloucester have that smart edge in spades though: this was their eighth game without defeat.
“When we went down to 13 players the momentum of the game swung, as it always would against one of the best sides in this league,” Davies explained.
“But the grit, determination and effort that these boys showed was unbelievable really.
“One of the buzz words with this group of players is ‘adapt’: you’ve got to react when things don’t go our way.
“And I think we showed that quality when we had 13 men, the whole team had to adapt, we slowed the game down a little bit, and we bought enough time to get those guys back on the field.”
Charlie Sharples, Freddie Burns and Akapsui Qera plundered fine tries for the Cherry and Whites, who grabbed just enough reward from their dominant periods to edge the victory.
Stubborn Gloucester inflicted just Leicester’s second defeat on the road in 2012, the other coming at Exeter in January, through a modicum of attacking flair – but a mountain of defensive zeal.
Akapusi Qera might not have made the Fiji autumn internationals squad, but the wrecking-ball flanker was world-class in all facets today.
Every time Gloucester found themselves under the cosh, Qera seemed to blast in with a thunderous tackle.
His attack-ending industry set the tone for another Gloucester performance drenched in resilience.
Burns might not have made the England squad, but the 22-year-old tyro put in a defence-turning grubber for Charlie Sharples’ two-minute score – then pulled off his trademark chip and collect for his own try.
Flood and Burns traded penalties in the first half, and Scott Hamilton finished Leicester’s only clear scoring chance smartly.
All Black Cowan and Ben Morgan nearly forced the Kiwi wing into touch – but he had the presence of mind to dot down in the crucial inch of space.
Flood slotted a penalty to close the half to leave Gloucester 17-11 to the good.
After the break Burns and Flood swapped penalties once more, before Burns was unable to land a second goal for the half.
And then came the best try of Gloucester’s three.
James Simpson-Daniel fielded a deep kick and produced a near-impossible change of direction for a devastating counter-attack.
The 30-year-old shredded the ragged Leicester defence, drew the remaining cover – and sent Fijian battering-ram Qera romping home in style.
Against some sides Gloucester might have kicked on, but the Tigers never surrender.
Back they came with a near all-out assault on the Gloucester 22 for the last 20 minutes.
Every time the visitors knocked on, or Gloucester stole the ball, the Shed erupted in raptures.
After endless penalty lineouts and scrums, the Tigers knocked on once too often – and Kingsholm erupted in relief at the final whistle.
Flair and industry underpinned this fine win – but it was that priceless nous to slow the clock that ground out this result.
And that’s just one of the many impressive traits Nigel Davies has bestowed on this side.
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Sharples (2), Burns (21), Qera (54). Cons: Burns 3 (2, 21, 54). Pens: Burns 2 (9, 48).
LEICESTER: Tries: Hamilton (13), Penalty (61). Cons: Flood (61). Pens: Flood 3 (4, 39, 50).
GLOUCESTER: Cowan (59), Cook (60).
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns, J Cowan, N Wood (D Murphy, 62), H Edmonds (K Britton, 55), R Harden (S Knight, 55), T Savage (P Buxton, 58), W James, S Kalamafoni (M Cox, 60), A Qera, B Morgan. Unused: D Robson, M Thomas, S Monahan.
LEICESTER TIGERS: G Murphy, S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goneva, T Flood, S Harrison, L Mulipola (M Ayerza, 37), T Youngs, D Cole, L Deacon, G Parling, S Mafi, T Waldrom, J Crane (E Slater, 19). Unused: G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni, G Kitchener, P Phibbs, G Ford, M Smith.
REFEREE: JP Doyle.