Gloucester see off Leicester challenge
October 27, 2012
Freddie Burns helped Gloucester to victory%]
Gloucester extended their unbeaten Aviva Premiership record to six games with a battling performance to edge out Leicester 27-21 at Kingsholm.
Cherry and Whites fly-half Freddie Burns outshone opposite number Toby Flood - England's current No.10 - through a 17-point haul that included a superb solo try. But Gloucester still had to dig deep in a gripping encounter, prevailing despite playing almost 10 minutes of the second period with 13 men after scrum-half Jimmy Cowan and full-back Rob Cook were sin-binned.
Tigers collected a penalty try in their absence, while Flood kicked 11 points and wing Scott Hamilton claimed an early touchdown, yet Gloucester deservedly triumphed through tries from Burns, wing Charlie Sharples and magnificent flanker Akapusi Qera.
Gloucester have not suffered a Premiership defeat since Northampton beat them on the league season's opening weekend, and they appear realistic title play-off contenders under rugby director Nigel Davies' assured leadership. Leicester will feel they should have collected more than just a losing bonus point, given their relentless scrummaging supremacy, but Burns helped ensure it was not to be.
Leicester suffered a major blow when their England scrum-half Ben Youngs withdrew because of a tight hamstring. Sam Harrison deputised and Tigers welcomed back fit-again skipper Geordan Murphy and lock Louis Deacon. Gloucester showed a number of changes following their Amlin Challenge Cup victory over Bordeaux-Begles nine days ago, the most notable being captain Jim Hamilton's absence due to a rib injury. Tom Savage replaced him and centre Mike Tindall skippered the side.
It took the home side just 45 seconds to breach Leicester's defence, with Burns twice playing an integral role. His superbly drifted kick-off was gathered by No.8 Ben Morgan, which allowed Gloucester to build attacking momentum before Burns booted the ball into space and Sharples touched down. Burns converted for good measure, but Leicester responded through a fifth-minute Flood penalty as the game began in blistering fashion.
There was no let-up during a frantic opening quarter, and after a Burns penalty extended Gloucester's lead, Leicester hit back when excellent link work between Hamilton and Manu Tuilagi ended with Hamilton scoring Tigers' opening try. It was a quality finish by the New Zealander, especially as he found himself under pressure from the combined defensive efforts of Morgan and James Simpson-Daniel, and although Flood's conversion hit the post, Leicester were keeping pace.
But their defence was unlocked again in the 21st minute thanks to a piece of Burns magic. With Tigers regrouping after number eight Jordan Crane departed injured, Burns chipped over Leicester's first defensive line, caught his kick and rounded things off for a sublime solo try that he also converted. Burns' omission from the England autumn Test squad grew more questionable by the minute, and Leicester had it all to do, trailing 17-8 and finding themselves pinned inside their own half.
Tigers enjoyed their best spell of the first 40 minutes as half-time approached, yet they were restricted to a second Flood penalty as Gloucester trooped off 17-11 ahead.
Flood and Burns exchanged penalties early in the second period before Gloucester wing Simpson-Daniel produced a moment of magic to extend Gloucester's lead. The former England speedster gathered possession inside his own half and he then left four Leicester players trailing on a weaving run that ended with him sending an unmarked Qera galloping over. Burns landed the conversion, and with Leicester's lineout continuing to badly malfunction - England squad hooker Tom Youngs repeatedly delivered wayward throws - Gloucester enjoyed a degree of control.
But when they temporarily went down to 13 men - Cowan and Cook received yellow cards 60 seconds apart - Leicester looked to capitalise. Cowan departed for deliberate offside, then Cook went after he deliberately knocked the ball into touch with his hand, and to complete a damaging few minutes for the home side flanker Sione Kalamafoni limped off injured.
The inevitable result was referee JP Doyle awarding Leicester a penalty try after Gloucester's scrum capitulated, with Flood's successful conversion narrowing the gap to just six points. But there was no further scoreboard damage for Gloucester to absorb before Cowan and Cook returned, and they withheld Leicester during injury time before they could celebrate a famous win.
Davies was left to look back at a performance in which his players had to dig deep when two players down.
"I am really delighted with the overall performance today," he said. "We showed great determination in the second half, but we also played some great rugby at times. When we were down to 13 players the momentum of the game swung and it was always going to be difficult, but the determination and effort the boys showed was unbelievable.We have a lot of confidence and belief and that was a fabulous win for us on what was a fabulous Kingsholm occasion."
His opposite number Richard Cockerill was again left to query certain refereeing decisions in the second half that he felt impeeded his side's momentum.
"We got ourselves back into it and put them under huge pressure, but I don't know how many times you have to get penalised two metres from your line before people go to the sin-bin, which was frustrating. If you were killing a ruck three times on the trot you would be in the bin; if it was a scrum you would be in the bin. There were some pretty tough calls. But look, we made mistakes ourselves at times and it was a classic game of rugby. Fair play to Gloucester, they played some good stuff."
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