Resilient Gloucester fend off Irish charge to record first victory under Nigel Davies
LONDON IRISH 31 GLOUCESTER 40
RESURGENT Gloucester registered their first victory at London Irish in six years to set the Nigel Davies era up and running in gritty style.
The Cherry and Whites once again took time to find their feet – but every time they built in phases they scored points.
Ben Morgan, James Simpson-Daniel and Akapusi Qera bagged tries to equal Irish scores from Topsy Ojo, Halani Aulika and Tomas O’Leary.
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Freddie Burns landed three more penalties than counterpart Steve Shingler – and that proved the difference.
Gloucester out-half Burns slotted 25 points in all, seven penalties and two conversions, to secure the Cherry and Whites’ first victory of the new campaign.
This time four months ago, Jim Hamilton was being sent off for fighting and Gloucester were dispatched 52-18 in a humiliating end to last season.
Fast-forward into Davies’ tenure as rugby director, and ahead of this clash there were already teething problems despite a new broom being swept right through Kingsholm.
Gloucester paid the price for starting slowly against Northampton Saints last week, leaving their opening-day comeback too late.
There was to be no repeat at Irish in round two though.
The Cherry and Whites took time to settle again, inviting too much pressure onto themselves in the first quarter.
But their tries were well-conceived, and the penalties the fruit of bullish phase-play.
Davies’ men were so battered by the close that cherry and white bodies were strewn across the turf, hobbling into the defensive line, desperate to see out the result.
Charlie Sharples, Tom Savage, Rupert Harden and Andy Hazell all suffered bruising injuries, while Jonny May, Freddie Burns and Mike Tindall were in obvious pain as the closing stages rushed on.
Impressive back-rower Savage was knocked clean out and in such distress that team-mate Morgan abandoned the defensive line to come to his aid.
Thankfully he left the field on his feet.
Tindall meanwhile ended the match seemingly with one shoulder slumped at his side, positively immobile.
All the pain dissipated in an instant at the final whistle though, that sweet victory feeling overriding everything else.
From the off Shingler and Burns traded penalties, before the home fly-half doubled his own goal tally.
Tricky wing Ojo profited from a fine Tom Homer grubber to finish the game’s first try – but it was a straight and true midfield line from Sailosi Tagicakibau that elicited the score.
Breaking the gain line, the mercurial centre flicked a pass out the back of his hand that befuddled Gloucester’s midfield.
The visitors steadied though, found patches of fluency, and Burns slotted two more penalties.
Shingler hit back with a penalty of his own just past the half-hour, before Burns missed a regulation goal shot four minutes later.
By this stage Gloucester had realised phases were the only route to victory.
Burns’ break from his own 22 deserved greater reward than for Will James to knock on a reasonable pop off the ground from the tackled number eight Morgan.
Constant thorn Dan Robson grubbered down the left flank and was close to retrieving deep in the Irish 22.
But Gloucester were closing on their first try of the day.
Aggressive Savage sat down two would-be tacklers, Morgan added the extra man in midfield to create an overlap and Gloucester were nearly away.
Simpson-Daniel found Hazell, but he could not collect cleanly enough to ship on.
But from the tackle Morgan blasted a crater round the fringes to blast over the whitewash, some four Irish defenders unable to stop the juggernaut loose forward.
Burns’ conversion wrestled Gloucester the lead for the first time.
A fourth penalty for Burns opened the second half, but Gloucester were quickly pegged back.
Irish were scenting blood out wide by this point, with Gloucester’s backline too often too ragged.
Aulika capped a flowing move, rolling around a ruck to pop over, with Shingler’s conversion stealing back the lead at 21-19.
Burns’ fifth penalty had Gloucester back ahead at 21-22, but Irish scrum-half O’Leary bagged a third try to put the Cherry and Whites under extreme duress.
Irish were six points to the good, and thoughts of another tight defeat no doubt entered Gloucester minds.
Two Burns penalties and one for Shingler edged the game round to the last ten minutes, with Irish leading 31-28.
But come the final throes, it was Gloucester who finished with more zeal, desire and finesse.
Whatever happens, Simpson-Daniel will always know his way to the tryline.
The wily wing cut the perfect support line to ghost home from a fine Dave Lewis break, capping a typically strong showing.
After Twelvetrees hit the line with verve, Lewis cut blind off a ruck, arced wide and created the space for the inside try-scoring pass.
Irish kept on coming in wave after wave, and even knocked on with the line at their mercy.
But this resilient Gloucester side countered again.
An exemplary driving maul set the platform in the Irish 22 and Twelvetrees thumped across the gainline and found muscular replacement Shane Monahan with a neat offload.
Qera, Huia Edmonds and Twelvetrees all drove Gloucester up to the whitewash – and then openside Qera bustled home.
If Gloucester can mirror this at Worcester next weekend, the Davies era really will have lift-off.
LONDON IRISH: Tom Homer (Anthony Watson, 34), Topsy Ojo, Jonathan Joseph, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Marland Yarde, Steve Shingler, Tomas O’Leary, Max Lahiff (Halani Aulika, 41), Scott Lawson (Brian Blaney, 62), Leo Halavatu (John Ryan, 57), George Skivington (Kieran Low, 62), Bryn Evans, Declan Danahar (capt) (Alex Gray, 69), Ofisa Treviranus, Jon Fisher. Unused: Shane Geraghty, Jack Moates.
GLOUCESTER: Jonny May, Charlie Sharples (Shane Monahan, 60), Henry Trinder (Mike Tindall, 59), Billy Twelvetrees, James Simpson-Daniel, Freddie Burns, Dan Robson (Dave Lewis, 66), Nick Wood (Dan Murphy, 59), Darren Dawidiuk (Huia Edmonds, 50), Shaun Knight (Rupert Harden, 49), Will James (Sione Kalamafoni, 50), Jim Hamilton (capt), Tom Savage, Andy Hazell (Akapusi Qera, 49), Ben Morgan.
IRISH: Tries: Ojo (21), Aulika (48), O’Leary (58). Cons: Shingler 2 (48, 58). Pens: Shingler 4 (4, 19, 32, 68).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Morgan (39), Simpson-Daniel (71), Qera (76). Cons: Burns 2 (39, 71). Pens: Burns 7 (9, 25, 28, 45, 54, 59, 65).
REFEREE: Greg Garner.