Paddy Lennon reports from Kingsholm, Gloucester
To have any chance of coming away with a result from Kingsholm the weather at least needs to needs to give visiting teams a break. London Irish did not have any such luck yesterday afternoon. Hours of persistent rain turned the normally sticky pitch into a quagmire making staying on one’s feet a skill in itself and passing an art form.
Both sides tried to make the best of the conditions, unsurprisingly it was the home side that came out on top. Irish resisted with spirit throughout but were beaten by a heavier pack allied to clever backs that had the local knowledge and tactical awareness to keep their visitors at bay.
The Exiles’ pack had the consolation of coming away from Gloucester knowing that they had matched their much-vaunted opposite numbers for most of the game. In the set pieces Ryan Strudwick and his forwards competed effectively and in open play tackled and defended tirelessly. However, their efforts were not matched by the backs who were ineffective and tactically naïve in the conditions.
The pattern of the game was set by the opening exchanges. A clever chip over the Irish defence had turned Irish forcing Michael Horak to race Marcel Garvey and send the ball into touch. Mark Cornwell won the resulting line-out, the ball was passed to Duncan McRae who chipped ahead. Henry Paul won the chase to touch down for the opening try of the game. He converted easily. Two minutes gone, 7-0 to the home team.
That the chip and chase was to be the cherry and white’s favourite tactic to break Irish’s defensive line was apparent two minutes later when McRae tried to send Garvey away with another well judged kick. Irish cleared successfully. McRae struck again in the sixth minute with a well executed drop goal that followed a turnover at a scrum.
That turnover was to be the first of many for Irish during the game, the Exiles lost out in the line-out and in the ruck to the home side’s more determined approach to winning the ball at the breakdown.
Ten points down after only ten minutes, Irish managed to play their way into the Gloucester 22 for the first time and were rewarded with a penalty. Barry Everitt’s kick from 15 metres sailed between the uprights for his team’s first score of the afternoon.
Gloucester always threatened in attack, the chip and chase continuously caused problems forcing Irish to defend deep. The back row of Declan Danaher, Kieron Dawson and Phil Murphy worked tirelessly and the tight five were called upon to defend heroically in the tiring conditions. Bob Casey had one of his best games of the season helping his captain to hold their own in the battle of the second rows.
In the 21st minute Michael Horak in his only creative move of the match, broke through from half-way, he shook off Andy Gomarsall’s attempted tackle and won the race to the right corner to touch down for what was to be Irish’s only try of the afternoon. Everitt kicked the difficult conversion to tie the score.
Gloucester increased the pressure and Irish had lucky escapes when Junior Paramore crossed the try line but was judged to have knocked-on. Five minutes later James Simpson-Daniel was denied a try in the left corner by the narrowest of margins as he followed up yet another clever chip kick. Paul was to miss a penalty before landing his first of the game in the 37th minute. Irish responded with a long range penalty by Everitt that bounced off and over the crossbar to keep the score level.
In the final action of the first half, Gloucester used their classic catch and drive move from a line-out to send hooker Chris Fortey over for a try. Paul missed the conversion to leave the half-time score 18-13.
It was a case of more of the same in the second half. The Gloucester pack contained any Irish initiative and kept their visitors at a safe distance from the home try line. Henry Paul kicked his second penalty in the 54th minute for the first score of the second period. That stretched his side’s lead to eight points. Barry Everitt had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 62nd minute but his penalty kick came off the post.
The wind and rain returned with a vengeance and Irish were forced to defend deep as the clock ticked towards the final whistle. The numerous stoppages for minor injuries combined with the inevitable rash of second half replacements, resulted in a disjointed and unsatisfactory final twenty minutes. The game was in its nineth minute of injury time when James Simpson-Daniel won a sprint down the left wing to touch down for a try which Paul converted for a final score of 28-13.
Scorers: Gloucester: Tries: Paul (2min), Fortey (40+1), Simpson-Daniel (89). Conversions: Paul 2. Drop goal: McRae (6). Penalty goals: Paul 2 (37, 54). London Irish: Tries: Horak 21. Conversion: Everitt. Penalty goals: Everitt 2 (12, 38).
Scoring sequence (Gloucester first): 7-0, 10-0, 10-3, 10-10, 13-10, 13-13, 18-13 (half-time) 21-13.
Gloucester: R van der Berg, M Garvey, T Fanolua (rep: R Todd, 67), H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel, D McRae, A Gomarsall, T Woodman, C Fortey, P Vickery, M Cornwell, A Brown (rep: A Eustace, 47), J Boer (captain), A Hazell (rep: P Buxton, 47), J Paramore.
London Irish: M Horak, P Sackey, G Appleford, N Mordt (rep: M Mapletoft, 67), J Bishop, B Everitt, D Edwards, D Wheatley (rep: A Halsey, 75), A Flavin (rep: N Drotske, 47), R Hardwick, R Strudwick (captain), B Casey (rep: N Kennedy, 76), D Danaher, K Dawson, P Murphy (rep: C Sheasby, 67).
Referee: R Maybank (RFU)