Gloucester Rugby: Style and substance in this Cherry and White package
GLOUCESTER 31 SCARLETS 17
THERE will be no better front-foot backline in the Premiership this season than the versatile, physical, strategic, stealthy and jet-heeled Cherry and Whites.
How often these myriad, at times mystical, marauders find that attacking initiative will entirely determine the success of Gloucester's campaign.
Master craftsman Freddie Burns, chief artisan Billy Twelvetrees, wily sage Henry Trinder, racehorse Charlie Sharples, magician James Simpson-Daniel, counter-strike king Rob Cook.
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All that before sharp serviceman Tavis Knoyle, snipe-fiend Dan Robson or gritty All Black Jimmy Cowan providing serious strength and depth at nine.
All that without injured deadly wing duo Jonny May and Shane Monahan; all that aside from World Cup-winning player/coach Mike Tindall.
Let's all catch our breath, pre-season is no time to get carried away.
But that's eve-of-season excitement for you, when the rugby-starved feel the blood pump into their ears once again.
This regal Kingsholm backline deserves to sprint into its pomp this season.
It must not be hamstrung by circumstance.
Gloucester's final pre-season action must act as a cautionary tale for the term ahead.
When Kingsholm's finest bossed the tight, the playmakers and try-stealers reigned supreme.
Once the Scarlets exchanged their timid first-half for a brute-force backlash, at times bordering on thuggery, Gloucester's majesty had to give way to manic rearguard resolve.
The Cherry and Whites clung on, then crushed the Scarlet revolution thanks to Rob Cook's superlative breakout score.
But Nigel Davies will still demand sharper scrummaging, smarter lineout-drive defence and more exacting breakdown work against Sale on Saturday in the Premiership opener.
Enduring talent Simpson-Daniel opened the scoring, back in the groove on his first Kingsholm appearance since October last year and shoulder surgery.
The 31-year-old shreds defences with even the simplest shoulder shrug, such is his imperceptible ability to shape shift.
Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees were straight back into the groove of last term.
Burns' tactical kicking was sharper though, while Twelvetrees hit the line with zeal, shouldering the hard yards without issue.
The inside-back duo teamed up for Gloucester's second score, Burns grubbering through for Twelvetrees to finish.
A flawless first quarter, but then lineout dominator James Hudson suffered a pectoral muscle problem and was withdrawn.
Jo Snyman's yellow card signalled the Scarlets' roughhouse intentions, but Gloucester could not exploit their extra man as the contest meandered to the break.
The visitors returned a different – snarling – animal for the second-half.
Gloucester failed to contain the Scarlets' lineout drive, conceding a penalty try.
Burns posted a penalty in reply, before Trinder exhibited all his nous to send Matt Kvesic in for his Kingsholm debut score.
Trinder's ingenious chip in behind on the blindside allowed Kvesic to scoop up and scoot in, the try fair reward for the boyhood Gloucester supporter's endless industry.
Ken Owens then scored from a training-ground lineout front-peel ploy for the Scarlets, with Gloucester slow to react to a clear set move.
Dan Robson was sin-binned for illegally disrupting a five-metre scrum as the visitors forced an arm wrestle.
The home side clung on, trapped in their own 22.
Gloucester almost made it back to full complement unscathed – until Kvesic joined Robson on the sidelines for one breakdown transgression too many.
The Scarlets edged inexorably towards the Gloucester whitewash.
A visiting try seemed increasingly inevitable, to tee up a fraught finish.
Then Cook pounced on a loose ball, blasted deep downfield – and set immediate chase.
Aaron Shingler raced off in hot pursuit, but Cook always had the edge in pace.
The former Cornish Pirate won the foot race, collected without delay, and powered under the posts for Gloucester's fourth – and match-winning try.
Subdued but not submissive, the Scarlets still had time to exploit Gloucester's driving lineout weakness once more.
A smart decoy maul peel conned Gloucester's pack into a cul-de-sac – and Rhodri Williams nipped into the space for the Welsh side's third try of the night.
Sharpen the streetwise to add to the sumptuous, and Gloucester can start the season in style against Sale.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, C Sharples (S Reynolds, 74), H Trinder (M Tindall, 71), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns (B Burns, 79), T Knoyle (D Robson, 41), N Wood (D Murphy, 51), D Dawidiuk (K Britton, 63), R Harden (Y Thomas, 51), T Savage (capt), J Hudson (L Lokotui, 22), S Kalamafoni, M Kvesic, B Morgan (A Qera, 51).
SCARLETS: G Owen, L Williams (J Williams, 47), G Maule (A Warren, 29), S Williams, K Phillips, S Shingler (R Priestland, 41), G Davies (R Williams, 47), P John (R Evans, 54), K Owens (E Phillips, 54), S Lee (J Adriaanse, 54), G Earle (J Ball, 51), J Snyman (S Timani, 63), A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker (capt). Unused: R Kelly, C Price.
REFEREE: G Garner.