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Gloucester v Exeter: Common sense key to winning top-four spot

By The Citizen  |  Posted: December 24, 2012

Rob Cook in action

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WHAT started with a swashbuckle was finished with a sledgehammer.

Gloucester wanted to thrill a sell-out Kingsholm crowd in their Aviva Premiership clash on Saturday and turn this into a battle of style over grit.

The conditions and the resolve of the visitors dashed those Cherry and Whites hopes – but still the hosts prevailed.

Instead this became a victory for common sense, and another feather in Nigel Davies' cap too.

No individual in a Gloucester shirt excelled beyond the rest – potentially all will play better individually this term.

But under rugby director Davies such problems are negotiable.

Gloucester's systems, methods and mindsets can always override a certain level of imprecision.

The Kingsholm men want to be far more than successful simply because the sum trumps the parts.

And yet they still realise just how vital that commodity is.

Their desperation to entertain is palpable, but they know it must not become all-consuming.

Attack-minded Gloucester had needed no second invitation to expand their front-foot approach in the victory double over London Irish.

Trying to build extra width against the struggling Exiles in the Amlin Challenge Cup was a calculated risk.

Daring that same strategy against granite-hewn Exeter very nearly proved one gamble too far.

But Davies' side have an increasing ability to shift their approach when and where necessary.

Without such shrewdness on Saturday, they would have lost this game, no doubt.

Gloucester had required 20 unanswered points in the last 25 minutes at London Irish two weeks ago to turn a 22-9 deficit on its head.

When the craved wide play threatened to come up short in Reading, Gloucester tightened up and swept Irish aside with brutal bludgeon.

The Cherry and Whites broke Irish's spirit at the Madejski Stadium, so little can be drawn from last weekend's 47-3 Kingsholm hammering.

Gloucester's attacking ambition is hugely admirable, and long may they battle to find that desired fluency, provided they keep fending off that fiendish front-foot desperation and pare things back when required.

For the first half-hour Gloucester tried to punish Exeter's narrow defensive strategy by raiding out wide from deep.

It played into the rugged visitors' hands, who offer that space then shut it down.

Gloucester were being overwhelmed in territory and possession, with only their dominant scrum denying Exeter some choice attacking platforms.

As soon as the Cherry and Whites realised, they recalibrated.

Freddie Burns started peppering smart line-kicks in behind the Chiefs.

And then Jimmy Cowan was held up over the try-line.

Akapusi Qera picked Haydn Thomas' pocket at the scrum base, Sione Kalamafoni charged down the left flank, and Shane Monahan carved into the Exeter 22.

Rob Cook's clever chip and collect dragged Gloucester to the cusp of the whitewash, before Cowan pounced, without success.

No reward – but that was step one towards victory.

Step two was the reaction to Exeter's try, the game's sole score.

Simon Alcott's finish decided the outcome – it snapped Gloucester back into focus.

Where many would have folded, Gloucester struck back once again and outmuscled the relentless Chiefs in the closing stages.

This Exeter side attack straight through the middle, in wave after wave of direct, uncompromising drives.

Hooker Alcott finished his try from two yards and in isolation that would seem unremarkable.

But Alcott scored on phase number 23 of the move, testament to Exeter's regimented and dogged approach.

More than once en route to that try, Gloucester thought they had stolen the ball.

But every time they came close, Exeter regained both possession and composure.

The Kingsholm men boast an impressive calm themselves, though, clearly filtering through from their savvy and unruffled rugby director.

And just when Exeter thought they could set out a stalemate finish, Gloucester struck back.

Burns inexplicably shanked a straightforward penalty just two minutes after the Exeter try.

But even that could not dislodge Gloucester's mental fortitude.

The Cherry and Whites attacked again, and their patience was rewarded with another penalty.

This time Burns delivered, to leave the home side trailing 16-15 with 15 minutes to play.

By this time all notion of finishing with a flourish had been rightly set aside.

Gloucester battled back into the Exeter 22, determined to set camp until full-time.

At times there was certainly a tempter of pushing for a try.

But in the end Gloucester were relieved to receive a penalty, and an opportunity for Burns to seal the deal.

The 22-year-old duly delivered, but even then six minutes remained and Gloucester could not ease off.

Instead the Cherry and Whites did exactly what Exeter had in battering to their try – Davies' men just ground through pick-and-go and one-out drives as though rugby offers nothing else.

Even the backs got in on the act, Billy Twelvetrees and Mike Tindall taking short balls to keep the play in the Exeter half.

One false move could have gifted Exeter a penalty, but Gloucester remained impressively precise – right up until the last play of the game.

Exeter knew they had to keep the ball alive and attack from their own 22.

But on the second phase they knocked on, and that was that.

Not half as pretty as they wanted, but in the fullness of time and this season's greater context, this win could prove among the most important.

Gloucester's Christmas present is a top-four Premiership berth.

Whatever the ingenuity, they must appreciate that superlative industry remains the cornerstone.

EXETER CHIEFS: L Arscott (I Mieres, 70-74), G Camacho, I Whitten, J Shoemark, M Jess, G Steenson, H Thomas, B Sturgess, S Alcott (N Alcott, 62), H Tui (C Rimmer, 61), A Muldowney, J Hanks (T Hayes, 62), D Mumm, J Scaysbrook (capt) (B White, 74), R Baxter. Unused: B Moon, K Barrett, S Naqelevuki.

REFEREE: Llyr ApGeraint Roberts


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  • BillBM  |  December 27 2012, 10:00AM

    We have to have our best and top rated tight head, Rupert Harden, when we go up against Tigers.

    |   5
  • CrunchMan  |  December 27 2012, 9:42AM

    Yep! Rupert is our number 1 and first choice tight head. He needs to be starting against Tigers to give us a chance of winning at Welford Road.

    |   6
  • GlawsSurfer  |  December 24 2012, 6:53PM

    Rupert harden is our best and top rated tight head. He was having a stellar season up until his injury. No doubt he will continue in that vein when he returns to his starting role.

    |   5
  • mattw74  |  December 24 2012, 6:19PM

    Yes, we need someone to back up Harden when he gets the inevitable injury. At the moment he is having to start practically every game but he still manages to produce the goods time and time again.

    |   5
  • Conrad_Selby  |  December 24 2012, 5:40PM

    None of our other tight heads comes anywhere near to challenging Rupert Harden which is why I reckon Nigel Davies will bring in some proper back up for Harden.

    |   6
  • jasonbennett3  |  December 24 2012, 5:26PM

    Yep! Their is only one tight head worth considering to start against Leicester Tigers and that is our top rated and best, Rupert Harden.

    |   7
  • SidGlawsder  |  December 24 2012, 4:58PM

    Quote - "Which of our tight heads should start against Leicester Tigers?" If he is fit, there is only one answer to that.... Rupert Harden, our official and actual first choice and best tight head by a country mile.

    |   6
  • Archie_Brew  |  December 24 2012, 4:49PM

    Which of our tight heads should start against Leicester Tigers? Well, against a team like Tigers, you want your best player in every position. Nine out of 11 starts in the Premiership is endorsement enough from Nigel Davies, the DoR and professional/expert head coach at Gloucester Rugby, that Rupert Harden is indeed the first choice and best tight head at Gloucester Rugby, bar none!

    |   5
  • Wilson640  |  December 24 2012, 2:25PM

    The weekend's game against Exeter, which we almost lost, shows how much our best and first choice tight head, Rupert Harden, is missed when he is not available. We need him fit and available to play against Tigers this coming weekend.

    |   6
  • alex_bound  |  December 24 2012, 1:06PM

    We certainly need Rupert Harden to face Leicester this weekend. If we only just beat Exeter at home without our best and first choice tight head, the only chance we have against Tigers is if we have our first choice players and that includes Rupert Harden.

    |   7