Gloucester Rugby: Scrum demolition not enough to stave off defeat
GLOUCESTER 19 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 24
NOT even a late rally and a demolition scrummage job could catapult Gloucester to opening-day victory at Kingsholm.
The Cherry and Whites paid the price for a first-half that was erroneous in the extreme.
No pace, power or incision in attack – and all-too porous in defence – the home side were undone by a slick-looking Saints.
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But then, Northampton hardly had to work for their two first-half tries that ultimately decided the contest.
George Pisi and captain Dylan Hartley handed Saints a relatively commanding 16-7 half-time cushion.
Gloucester kept inviting pressure onto themselves in the first quarter, and eventually paid the price for failing to build any kind of platform.
Lee Dickson broke into the Saints 22, Samu Manoa blasted a big crater in the Gloucester defence, and set Soane Tonga’uiha loose.
When the ball was worked left, the Gloucester defence evaporated and Pisi was left with a run-in.
Skipper Hartley doubled the try advantage when he nipped in on the left flank after a five-metre scrum, and that off the back of another flying attack.
Two penalties from Freddie Burns at least offered a foothold, but it did little to alleviate a feeling of dread at the turnaround.
Gloucester finally hit their stride after the break though, Burns adding two more penalties as the Cherry and Whites at last discovered some tempo.
But masterful Saints centre Pisi scored his second try in a quicksilver move that undid much of Gloucester’s good work early in the second period.
With the final quarter ticking around, Nigel Davies’ men realised they had to act – and fast – or face whimpering all the way to opening Premiership defeat.
The home side promptly attacked with purpose, and GJ Van Velze was sent to the sin-bin, for a questionable tackle on Akapusi Qera.
Seizing the man advantage in the pack, Gloucester opted for the scrum – and took the denuded Saints apart.
After five scrums – two re-sets and three penalties – referee Dave Pearson sin-binned former Gloucester prop Paul Doran-Jones.
Injured tighthead prop Brian Mujati came back to the field, but was clearly not capable.
Gloucester steamrollered Saints again, and finally Pearson awarded the inevitable penalty try.
Out of the wreckage of a poor first half, suddenly – right at the death – Gloucester had a chance.
Try as they might though, Gloucester could not convert a glut of half-chances into points.
All manner of mini-breaks fell short, and when a deflected pass sailed through Freddie Burns’ legs, it was clear the remarkable comeback was not to be.
Gloucester did improve as the tie wore on though, and that at least will give new boss Davies some cause for optimism.
Should new captain Jim Hamilton be fit in time for next week’s trip to London Irish, that would boost the tight five.
The Cherry and Whites can be very satisfied with their scrum, though the lineout will need some tidying up.
Davies and Co consider they left a victory on the field – and three cheap tries can be viewed the top cause of that.
After the first half though, a bonus point is not the worst return in the world.
Despite all the mid-match improvements though, on this initial evidence the Cherry and Whites still need to find a couple of extra dimensions to establish a foothold in the Premiership’s top half.
GLOUCESTER: J May, C Sharples, M Tindall (H Trinder, 60), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns (M Thomas, 79), D Robson (D Lewis, 52), N Wood (D Murphy, 60), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds, 52), R Harden (S Knight, 43), T Savage, A Brown (capt) (W James, 60), M Cox (S Kalamafoni, 52), A Qera, B Morgan.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: B Foden, K Pisi, G Pisi (L Burrell, 74), D Waldouck, V Artemyev, R Lamb (S Myler, 62), L Dickson, S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones , 34; A Waller, 74), S Manoa, C Day (M Sorenson, 60), P Dowson, T Wood (B Mujati, 71), GJ Van Velze. Unused: M Haywood, R Oakley, M Roberts.
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Penalty (72). Cons: Burns (72). Pens: Burns 4 (28, 37, 42, 48).
SAINTS: Tries: G Pisi 2 (18, 51), Hartley (23). Cons: Lamb 3 (18, 23, 51). Pens: Lamb (39).
SAINTS: GJ Van Velze (67), Doran-Jones (71).
REFEREE: Dave Pearson.