Resurgent Gloucester claim fifth-straight win over rivals Bath
GLOUCESTER 16 BATH 10
RESURGENT Gloucester overturned a ten-point deficit and a wretched first quarter to register their fifth-straight West Country derby victory.
When All Blacks World Cup winner Stephen Donald ghosted through a non-existent defence for a try after just one minute, Kingsholm was stupefied.
The Cherry and Whites were dumbfounded to a man – but Nigel Davies’ side have resilience coming out of their ears.
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And if resilience is the Kingsholm watchword, then the home side exhibited their most pleasing trait once again.
It was not just that Donald try that had Gloucester on the rocks from the off – the Cherry and Whites had no forward power, no phase play – and for the first time they were smashed backwards in the scrum.
The first-up midfield defence continues to pose Gloucester problems, as shown by that soft Donald try.
Nick Abendanon knocked on with the tryline at his mercy after Kyle Eastmond had sneaked in behind James Simpson-Daniel.
Donald’s penalty extended the lead to 10-0, and that’s how it stayed until the half-hour.
Finally Gloucester found something resembling their feet, and Freddie Burns was able to slot two penalties in as many minutes to cut the deficit to four points.
Turning around within a score after a horror-show half, Gloucester will definitely have wiped their brow in relief.
And when the teams returned, Gloucester struck the right chords.
Burns could not convert a penalty chance six minutes into the second period, but the unfazed home side sustained their pressure.
And Irish powerhouse wing Shane Monahan produced a moment of sheer, ebullient class.
The 25-year-old continues to be a revelation in his first Premiership campaign, underlining his growing status with a rapier break.
Careering in off the left flank, Monahan scythed Bath in two, and dragged three would-be tacklers with him to the cusp of the whitewash.
Kingsholm thought he had scored, and he very nearly had.
But the Television Match Official wiped away the Cherry and White frenzy, ruling that he had grounded the ball in a double movement.
That meant it was a penalty to Bath for holding on in the tackle.
Gloucester were coming though; Kingsholm sensed it.
And then that man James Simpson-Daniel evaded the first man with an imperceptible shift, stood up the remaining cover – and sent the impressive Rob Cook over in the left corner.
There will be fewer finer or more timely scores at Kingsholm this year: in the greatest local derby in the country, forget the struggle, it is only ever the result that matters.
No sooner had Gloucester stamped their authority though, than they invited Bath back into the contest.
Bath put the squeeze back on straight away, and Gloucester fluffed a series of attempted clearance kicks.
Failing to find touch allowed Bath the chance to counter from a broken-field.
And that forced Gloucester onto their ragged back foot.
The Kingsholm men bent – but crucially did not break.
And eventually Gloucester realised they had to attack, or face capitulation.
Gloucester’s forward pack – so troubled before the break – were able to smash craters through the Bath defence for swathes of the second half.
And the scrummage – so denuded in the first half – almost forced a penalty try.
Gloucester won two-straight scrum penalties on Bath’s five-metre line, and fully merited too.
But just when a penalty score was in the offing, Bath somehow claimed a penalty of their own, at the third scrum.
Sione Kalamafoni and Ben Morgan were always to the fore on that front, and both men helped bludgeon Gloucester back into the Bath 22 once again.
Half-chances seemed to come and go with every phase as Gloucester pushed for that match-winning score.
But eventually fly-half Burns decided enough was enough, dropped into the pocket and slotted a snapshot drop-goal.
Leaving the Bath 22 with points was a fine idea – but the pessimists among the Shedheads were squirming in their skins.
Six minutes on the clock, and Gloucester’s lead was the same margin – plenty of time for Bath to steal a match-turning converted try.
And the visitors certainly had their chances.
But grit and commitment from the home side kept them at bay.
Two priceless turnovers at the bottom of rucks from replacement prop Shaun Knight, and then another from number eight Morgan, allowed Gloucester to hold firm.
Bath replacement Ollie Devoto had a last-gasp chance to launch a counter from halfway – but instead chose to chip ahead.
Replacement scrum-half Jimmy Cowan swept into the hole and collected the bouncing ball, and palmed off to Cook.
The imperious former Cornish Pirate gleefully blasted the ball over the top of The Shed, and that was that.
To win a West Country derby after a farcical opening and a lacklustre first half is something most definitely worthy of note.
Early days no doubt, but Gloucester are quietly moving in a very pleasing direction.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, S Monahan, H Trinder, B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns, D Robson (J Cowan, 59), N Wood (D Murphy, 63), H Edmonds (K Britton, 63), R Harden (S Knight, 59), T Savage (W James, 46), J Hamilton (capt), S Kalamafoni, A Qera, B Morgan. Unused: G Evans, , M Tindall, M Thomas.
BATH: N Abendanon, K Eastmond, D Hipkiss (J Cuthbert, 70), S Vesty, T Biggs, S Donald (O Devoto, 78), M Claassens (M McMillan, 52-57 blood, 70), P James (N Catt, 70), L Mears (capt) (R Batty, 64), D Wilson (A Perenise, 64), D Day (W Spencer, 61), D Attwood, C Fearns, B Skirving, S Taylor (W Skuse, 53).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Cook (52). Cons: Burns (52). Pens: Burns 2 (31, 33). Drop-goals: Burns (74).
BATH: Tries: Donald (1). Cons: Donald (1). Pens: Donald (20).
REFEREE: Dave Pearson.