West County derby match analysis: victory washes away pain of battle
THUNDERCLAP derby skirmishes take their toll like no other.
Gauze-bright cheek abrasions from eye to chin seared Jim Hamilton’s face as he asked team-mates to help him from his shirt, temporarily unable to command control of his battered body.
A once-straight nose impaired Shane Monahan’s vision, bloodily strewn sideways by one too many car-crash collisions.
The Gloucester collective sat in the bowels of Kingsholm, licked those raw, open wounds – and beamed the grin of the Cheshire Cat.
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All the pain washes away in West Country derby victory – but celebrating a fifth-straight win in arguably the Premiership’s bitterest rivalry is the greatest anaesthetic of all.
Elation floated around Kingsholm’s home dressing room on Saturday night, but relief most definitely hung on the atmosphere too.
All those battle scars would have stung like no other had the Cherry and Whites not conjured second-half poise from first-half palaver.
Tribalism dictates that victory over Bath can trump almost any ills. The current Kingsholm squad say supporters tell them little else.
Gloucester’s incumbents never doubt they will summon the minerals to hurtle into high-octane tackles in derby week.
But this time that process took about 40 minutes on the field and ten at half-time – when it should take 20 maximum, and in the warm-up to boot.
Stopped in the street all week by fans drumming in the rivalry, Gloucester stopped dead, at the worst possible moment.
The home side just froze, to a man watching on stupefied as Stephen Donald cakewalked through the rice-paper Cherry and Whites defence to score with just a minute on the clock.
Midfield defensive alignment has plagued Gloucester all season, but this took the biscuit.
Not petrified enough by that shambolic start, the Cherry and Whites’ usual stone-clad scrummage crumbled to dust, and the concrete phase-play dissolved too.
Bath marched the Gloucester eight back in the scrum – a first humiliation this term – and controlled the game’s tempo and rhythm.
So much for new Bath boss Gary Gold’s pragmatic, regimented approach – the visitors had no option but to run Gloucester ragged.
Donald’s penalty at the start of the second quarter had Gloucester trailing 10-0 – and struggling.
Kyle Eastmond almost sneaked in behind James Simpson-Daniel, but could not keep his feet out of touch while trying to force a scoring pass .
But on the half-hour – after countless futile attempts – Gloucester finally hauled themselves out of their own half, and back into the contest.
Freddie Burns posted two penalties amid more Bath threat, and keeping the dominant visitors at bay before the break proved vital.
Despite a wretched opening, Gloucester turned around just four points in arrears, the fruit of a teak-tough resilience ushered in by Nigel Davies.
The rugby director admitted he was more aggressive than measured in his half-time team-talk.
No one was lambasted, but the Kingsholm boss splashed cold water on the punch-drunk home side, and told them to get fired up, smash big runners into wider channels, and take control.
They listened. Suddenly Sione Kalamafoni and Ben Morgan were ploughing through gaps with men hanging off them, rather than blasting into barn doors.
Burns missed an early penalty shot that would have been frugal reward in itself given Gloucester’s dominance.
And then Irish powerhouse Monahan bludgeoned the moment to galvanise both a team and an entire stadium.
Kingsholm eyes widened in awe as the 25-year-old summer signing from Rotherham once again made light of the Premiership step-up, cutting in off his left wing in devastating fashion.
The former Leinster Academy prospect mangled his way through a midfield mess at pace, emerging on the other side with the whitewash in view.
Three cover-tacklers hauled him down within inches of the line, but he had the power to roll the challenge and ground the ball. Cue Kingsholm raptures to greet a moment of pure class.
The Television Match Official chalked off the try, though, ruling Monahan had taken two movements in the tackle to ground the ball, thereby not releasing.
Frustrations grew, but the turnaround was increasingly odds-on.
And when peerless Simpson-Daniel hip-swayed past the first defender, the try was in the bag.
Sinbad might never want to play for England again – but Gloucester will have him indefinitely with near-imperceptible try-scoring shifts like this.
The 30-year-old’s timeless class created the space for faultless full-back Rob Cook to slide over in the left corner.
Referee Dave Pearson inexplicably referred the decision to the TMO, and after a pointless and interminable delay, the cast-iron try was awarded.
Three points to the good, Gloucester offered Bath agonising avenues back into the clash through wayward line kicking.
But frantic defence was just about enough to keep the visitors at bay, for whom the excellent Carl Fearns was a constant menace.
Monahan then looked to have set Trinder home for a match-sealing try, but Pearson ruled it out – without the aid of the TMO. Replays indicated it was a fair score.
Still Gloucester pressed, but still they were unable to break the visiting defence – so Burns dropped a goal.
The pessimists feared a six-point lead with six minutes to play allowed Bath the chance to pilfer victory.
And Gloucester duly came under intense pressure.
But two turnovers in the dark corners of rucks from Shaun Knight, one at the tackle from Ben Morgan, and Gloucester held out.
Panic does not exist for Davies’ Gloucester. The new boss shoulders the responsibility and his players are responding.
The derby bragging rights continue then, and what’s more – six games into the Premiership campaign, Gloucester have the same results record as Leicester.
The inability to play averagely and win drove Bryan Redpath to the end of his tether. Early days, but thus far that elusive quality is a huge feature of the Davies era.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, S Monahan, H Trinder, B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel, F Burns, D Robson (J Cowan, 59), N Wood (D Murphy, 63), H Edmonds (K Britton, 63), R Harden (S Knight, 59), T Savage (W James, 46), J Hamilton (capt), S Kalamafoni, A Qera, B Morgan. Unused: G Evans, M Tindall, M Thomas.
BATH: N Abendanon, K Eastmond, D Hipkiss (J Cuthbert, 70), S Vesty, T Biggs, S Donald (O Devoto, 78), M Claassens (M McMillan, 52-57 blood, 70), P James (N Catt, 70), L Mears (capt) (R Batty, 64), D Wilson (A Perenise, 64), D Day (W Spencer, 61), D Attwood, C Fearns, B Skirving, S Taylor (W Skuse, 53).
REFEREE: Dave Pearson.