Gloucester Rugby: Murphy stakes claim as Albion are beaten
GLOUCESTER 22 PLYMOUTH ALBION 13
LET'S be honest, no one wants to be the best of the rest.
Fastest loser, third-place play-off…
If you're not first, you're last.
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So it stands to reason that anyone selected for this game has ground to make up to hit Gloucester's frontline, right?
Not a chance.
Long gone are the days when the Cherry and Whites relied on a rigid starting XV.
Nigel Davies has built his Kingsholm tenure on opportunity – pointedly removing any limits on that particular abstract noun.
Prop Dan Murphy is the perfect case in point: criminally underused under Bryan Redpath, the former London Irish loosehead flourished under Davies last term.
The accomplished front-rower started the first match of the Kingsholm double-header, against Championship men Plymouth.
But come the Premiership opener against Sale, there is no doubt Murphy will play a pivotal role, whether from the bench or from the off.
It was Murphy who opened the scoring, after fly-half Jonny Bentley cut a dangerous flat line off a 22 lineout.
Bentley's penalty extended the lead to 8-0, before Gloucester were penalised for obstruction in setting a maul from a lineout.
Dan Mugford slotted a penalty to register Albion's first points.
But Pale Nonu's yellow card hampered the visitors.
Gloucester punted a fourth penalty to the corner, the pack generated a powerful drive – and All Black stager Jimmy Cowan ghosted off the maul for try number two.
A 15-3 half-time lead was most definitely routine.
Mugford's second penalty cut the Albion deficit after the turnaround, but then in-form full-back Martyn Thomas raced home to restore Gloucester's command.
Heath Stevens claimed a smart Plymouth try just past the hour, with Chris Elder converting.
But Gloucester had already done enough for victory, and closed out the tie.
Balanced playmaker Ryan Mills withdrew right before kick-off with illness, changing the composition of Gloucester's midfield.
Mike Tindall paired up with Tim Molenaar, all brute force and hard running.
Luctonians product Drew Cheshire threatened with stealth running from the left flank, while Cowan was solid at nine as he continues his comeback after long-term knee trouble.
New hooker Dan George was industrious in the tight once again, and will always offer solidity at least this term.
Academy lock Elliott Stooke cut some impressive lines in midfield, bullocking through with an added yard of pace.
The imposing physical specimen continues to develop at a rate of knots and is some prospect.
Number eight Gareth Evans' pace and handling was too much for Albion at times, with captain Andy Hazell and Matt Cox slugging it out on the flanks.
There were debuts for new lock Tom Hicks and academy men Lewis Ludlow and Jonny Hill from the bench.
New York City Sevens star Jaryd Robinson had scarce little chance to cut loose in a solid cameo, while Hartpury's Seb Rodwell stood up manfully in the centres.
Rugby director Davies wanted a show of strength with two wins on one night, stretching his squad to its limit.
The Cherry and Whites delivered, and in round one a number of Kingsholm men did their personal claims no harm whatsoever.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas (C Norman, 74), S Reynolds (J Robinson, 41), T Molenaar, M Tindall (S Rodwell, 41), D Cheshire, J Bentley (B Burns, 61), J Cowan (R Boughton, 68), D Murphy (J Gibbons, 41), D George (K Britton, 41), T Heard (Y Thomas, 58), E Stooke, W James (T Hicks, 52), M Cox, A Hazell (capt) (L Ludlow, 16-24 blood, 61), G Evans (J Hill, 74).
PLYMOUTH: C Elder, J Arnott, T Howley-Berridge, P Nonu (H Stevens, 52), J Davies (L Warner, 65), D Mugford (J Shanahan, 52), R Cushion (P Rowley, 52), D Morton (T Harrison, 68), D McGregor (G Evans, 39), M Shields (B Rogers, 40), I Ascroft-Leigh (R Langley, 52), B Beukeboom, H Stupple (I Ascroft-Leigh, 67), E Grace (S Matavesi, 52), R Oakley (capt) (S Stephen, 36).
REFEREE: S Harding (RFU).