Gloucester Rugby v Northampton Saints match analysis
GLOUCESTER RUGBY 19 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 24
COACHES tend to shy away from pre-season predictions, and who can blame them.
New Gloucester boss Nigel Davies was no different, shrewdly asserting he would put no limits on the Cherry and Whites' aims and targets.
Rugby director Davies did make one assertion ahead of the new league campaign though.
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And in classically frustrating fashion, that prophecy has haunted the Kingsholm men with immediate effect.
Former Llanelli Scarlets boss Davies said Gloucester could not rely on their X-Factor players digging themselves out of trouble this season.
Davies foretold scenarios of struggle if Gloucester failed to set a platform through their pack, and expected the stellar talents out wide to save the day.
In the first 40 minutes of his Kingsholm tenure, Davies' picture of woe materialised.
Those X-Factor backs spent the first half wincing like Simon Cowell suffering a Jedward audition.
Not that the men behind the scrum were blameless of course. Collectively Gloucester failed to fire before the break and paid the ultimate price.
Gloucester did mature into the contest, most notably dominating the scrum battle.
Clawing a foothold remains creditable, but still the home side came up short.
Once they were chasing the game trailing by two tries at the break, defeat always seemed odds-on.
Conceding a third soft try in the second half sealed their fate.
Half-chances came and went at the death, and Gloucester felt they left a victory on the field.
Realistically, whatever their mid-match improvements, they did not warrant that win.
Now the challenge is to sharpen up and add the tight phase play and robust defence that will yield the craved victories against top teams.
Tidying up lineouts, defending driving mauls and staying accurate to relieve pressure will all no doubt be areas Davies and his coaching team focus on this week.
The same criticisms would have been levelled had Gloucester eked out victory at the death.
And there are signs that this squad can yield a potent team.
Just because it did not come together on day one is no disaster – but the running repairs must be made swiftly.
A cagey first quarter was punctuated by Gloucester repeatedly warding off the Saints at the last, only to produce an error that would invite pressure once more.
Just when the home side looked to have ridden their luck though, the Saints drew first blood.
Sniping scrum-half Lee Dickson breached the Gloucester half, bullocking lock Samu Manoa blasted a crater – then set wrecking-ball prop Soane Tonga'uiha free to boot.
Saints won the ruck, Gloucester's defensive line evaporated, and classy centre George Pisi had a run-in on the left wing.
Skipper Dylan Hartley then doubled his side's try advantage after a five-metre scrum, the visitors again profiting from a free-flowing move where Gloucester's defence crumbled too easily.
Gloucester just could not force any incision on the front-foot either, so were slightly fortunate to force two penalties that Freddie Burns slotted.
At least by this stage they were able to keep the ball for multiple phases, even without the craved penetration.
Gloucester upped the ante, the tempo and the precision after the turnaround, and quickly were able to notch two more penalties through Burns.
No sooner had the Cherry and Whites stabilised the foothold however than Saints swept it out from underneath them.
A two-phase move involving both Pisi brothers allowed centre George to double his try tally and dump Gloucester right back into the mire.
Ryan Lamb's third penalty heaped on further misery too.
But Gloucester's replacement cavalry call made the desired impact, Huia Edmonds and Sione Kalamafoni wreaking havoc in the loose play.
When Saints' number eight GJ Van Velze was sin-binned for a tackle on Akapusi Qera, Gloucester sensed scrummaging blood.
Old Gloucester boy Paul Doran-Jones was in all sorts of trouble the moment he replaced injured Brian Mujati late on in the first half.
But his afternoon only went from bad to worse, as merciless scrum unit Gloucester annihilated their Saints counterparts.
Forget the man advantage, Gloucester's dominance still proved impressive.
A six-scrum sequence comprised two penalties, three re-sets and a yellow card for Doran-Jones.
How the Kingsholm crowd dined out on that saccharine morsel.
More blood followed, as Mujati – clearly unfit for purpose – was pressed back into emergency action.
Gloucester duly steamrollered the umpteenth five-metre scrum, leaving referee Dave Pearson no option but to award the fully-merited penalty try.
Lucky for Saints Pearson took so long about that award.
Had there not been so many scrums, the visitors would have had to endure an even more torrid ending.
As it was they were able to ward off an eight-minute onslaught from the Cherry and Whites – as much down to frantic defence as Gloucester's anxious imprecision.
A host of half-chances came and went, Gloucester unable to capitalise on such rarities as winning a scrum against the head – and Saints inched across the victory line.
At least Gloucester grew into the game, but consolations cannot last forever.
Davies now has a yardstick – so far his side fail to measure up, but there is plenty of time and opportunity to change all that.
Gloucester rugby: J May, C Sharples, M Tindall (H Trider 60), J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns (M Thomas 70), D Robson (D Lewis 52), N Wood (D Murphy 6), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds 52), R Harden (S Knight 43), T Savage, A Brown (W James 61), M Cox (S Kalamafoni 52), A Qera, B Morgan.
Scorers: Tries: Penalty (72), Pens: Burns 4 (28, 37, 42, 48).
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.
Scorers: Tries G Pisi (18, 51), Hartley (23). Cons: Lamb 3. Pens: Lamb 39.
REFEREE: Dave Pearson.