London Irish v Gloucester Rugby match report and analysis
LONDON IRISH 31 GLOUCESTER RUGBY 40
FALSE idols bedevilled Gloucester for far too long at the Madejski Stadium.
For too long the Irish support – swamped by this football ground – danced to the beat of that incessant Exiles fan's drum.
For too long The Wild Rover trumpet fanfare hit the Cherry and Whites like a funeral lament.
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And for too long, the stadium announcer's infuriating blarney-toned 'Keep it going Irish' gnawed away at the men from Kingsholm.
To the old school of Gloucester, such razzmatazz is not just anathema, it is hot air.
That heat had scorched the very life out of supporters, players and coaches alike: because for five years the counter-attack Irish kings kept twisting the knife on the field as well as off it.
How sweet then, that by the end of Saturday's stirring Premiership victory, the only sound emanating from the Reading stands was the famous 'Glawster, Glawster' refrain.
Lose here and the Cherry and Whites faithful could have started to worry those false idols were sitting at the top of Gloucester's kingdom.
Were the Kingsholm board's pre-season prophecies predicting too much too soon?
Is Nigel Davies the new Messiah, or just a very naughty boy?
Clearly it is far too soon to judge, but this resilient victory wipes away any early fears.
This spirited and robust win – a first at Irish since 2006 – underlines Gloucester's top-six credentials.
New boss Davies believes this was Gloucester at 60 per cent: if they can add 20 to that, they will be seriously potent, and maybe even capable of hitting that craved top-four spot.
But let's not get carried away – Davies also said any extra progress is just potential, as things stand.
There's no doubt this result represents progress though.
Four months ago on the very same ground Gloucester hurtled face-first into rock bottom.
Jim Hamilton left Irish hooker David Paice concussed as the two slugged it out in a mass brawl, the Gloucester lock sent off on his first-ever Cherry and Whites captaincy duty.
But it was Gloucester who left Reading dazed and confused in May, rudderless and in total flux.
A summer's rebuilding later, and it is a strong omen that Gloucester triumphed in Hamilton's first outing as Kingsholm club captain, back at Irish, scene of that capitulation and his own crime.
Gloucester deserved to lose their opening-day Northampton clash, but certainly improved within that battle.
In defeating London Irish they have confirmed that progress, and set their campaign on course.
There is palpable relief among the Gloucester squad that they head to Worcester on Saturday with a one-win one-defeat record, as opposed to two defeats from two.
As against Saints Gloucester invited pressure on to themselves in the first quarter.
Unable to set camp far enough up the field, the Cherry and Whites paid the price when Topsy Ojo dotted down Tom Homer's fine defence-turning grubber.
A try elicited by incisive centre Sailosi Tagicakibau, who cut a straight line through Gloucester's midfield and flicked the ball beautifully clear with the back of his hand.
Freddie Burns' three penalties had kept Gloucester in touch, even though he missed a regulation fourth attempt.
Burns' fine burst from his own 22 deserved more than Will James' unfortunate knock-on from Ben Morgan's pass off the ground.
Dan Robson stole blind round a ruck, but was unable to reach his own grubber.
But just when half-chances threatened to prove costly, up popped brutal number eight Morgan.
Standout forward Tom Savage rampaged over the Irish rearguard, before Morgan created an overlap that Simpson-Daniel and Andy Hazell very nearly exploited for a score.
Morgan drove round the ruck fringes though, eluding four chasing defenders to blast home for Gloucester's first try.
Perhaps this was the defining moment of the match: the try all-but closed the half and handed Gloucester the lead for the first time.
Burns' penalty opened the second half, but Gloucester ran into an Irish side unwilling to slump again after comprehensive Saracens defeat on the opening weekend.
Steve Shingler cut the line too easily, Jonathan Joseph careered close but was hauled down just shy of the whitewash – and from the ruck it was an easy score for Halani Aulika.
Scenting blood, Irish started capitalising on some doglegged backline defence from the Cherry and Whites.
Shingler grubbered in behind out-of-position Sharples for Watson to chase: Sharples grabbed the loose ball but had to carry over to hand Irish a five-metre scrum.
Marland Yarde dragged in the defence cutting off his wing, and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary nipped over.
Refusing to let a six-point deficit phase them, Gloucester fought back.
Burns landed two penalties to take his goals tally to seven, before Shingler's fourth edged Irish ahead again.
But then Gloucester finished the job.
Increasingly influential Billy Twelvetrees broke the line, before Dave Lewis' blindside break scythed Irish open.
The replacement scrum-half hugged the touchline, allowing James Simpson-Daniel to ghost inside and receive a well-floated scoring pass.
A fine rolling maul battered the Cherry and Whites into the Irish 22, Twelvetrees savaged the line and offloaded to bullish substitute wing Shane Monahan.
Akapusi Qera, Huia Edmonds and Twelvetrees all drove in on tight phases – and then openside Qera bundled home.
By the end of this clash cherry and white bodies were strewn across the turf, the walking wounded desperately battling to their feet to keep their place in the defensive line.
Andy Hazell broke his nose, Tom Savage was knocked out cold, Shaun Knight departed after a heavy hit, Freddie Burns suffered cramp again, and Mike Tindall spent the last five minutes protecting one shoulder.
But all and more hauled creaking joints and battered bones into contact time after time, desperate to preserve Gloucester's advantage.
When Shinger shanked a last-gasp drop-goal attempt, strength-sapped arms hoisted to the heavens to salute the real start of the Nigel Davies era.
A victory to savour: and a platform for progress.
LONDON IRISH: T Homer (A Watson, 34), T Ojo, J Joseph, S Tagicakibau, M Yarde, S Shingler, T O'Leary, M Lahiff (H Aulika, 41), S Lawson (B Blaney, 62), L Halavatu (J Ryan, 57), G Skivington (K Low, 62), B Evans, D Danahar (capt) (A Gray, 69), O Treviranus, J Fisher. Unused: S Geraghty, J Moates.
GLOUCESTER RUGBY: J May, C Sharples (S Monahan 60), H Trinder (M Tindall 59), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns, D Robson (D Lewis 66), Nick Wood (D Murphy 59), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds 50), S Knight (R Harden 49), W James (S Kalamafoni 50), J Hamilton, T Savage, A Hazell (A Qera 49), B Morgan
REFEREE: Greg Garner.