Gloucester storm to top of table
November 29, 2008
Iain Balshaw touches down as Gloucester see off Northamptonshire at Kingsholm
© Getty Images
Gloucester secured their eighth Guinness Premiership victory of the season as they went top of the table with a bonus-point victory at Kingsholm over Northampton, and now lead their West Country rivals, Bath, by two points.
Northampton have been blowing hot and cold during the league campaign, excelling to secure a 28-28 draw at home to Bath in a brilliant match last weekend yet looking ordinary in losing 14-13 to Bristol. They had not won since their September 20 home victory over Wasps by 24-20 and had secured only three points - a losing bonus point and that draw - since that triumph.
Gloucester started the better even though they suffered the loss of centre Anthony Allen after just three minutes, although his replacement was not the worst in England international Olly Barkley.
It was Barkley who gave Gloucester the opening try of the match when he popped an excellent pass to fellow centre Mike Tindall who dashed through the Northampton defence, gave it to Lesley Vainikolo on the wing and then inside to full-back Iain Balshaw to cross and make it 8-0 after Ryan Lamb's earlier penalty.
By 20 minutes, Gloucester were beginning to impose their authority as their wealth of international experience came to the fore, with Barkley again involved as he sent Alasdair Strokosch towards the line where England No. 8 Luke Narraway crossed.
Lamb converted but, finally, after 24 minutes the Saints got their first score when full-back Stephen Myler booted a 25-metre penalty. They were, however, their own worst enemy. The possession they managed to secure and the attacking chances created were either squandered or they gave away penalties and free-kicks.
So it was no surprise when the enterprising home team got their third try when Saints captain Bruce Reihana was unable to stop Barkley from getting over on the stroke of half-time.
The Saints were never negative, though, and a few times put Gloucester under pressure. Eventually that persistence paid off when flanker Scott Gray crept in at the corner. Myler's conversion put Northampton back in with a chance of the victory and they had the better of the third quarter.
But Gloucester secured a bonus point when Barkley again provided the inspiration with a kick on the left that Vainikolo chased to score in the corner. Two Lamb penalties late on sealed the decisive victory.
Gloucester Head coach Dean Ryan was satisfied by the performance and said Lamb, in particular, has taken the season by the scruff of the neck after an in-and-out campaign last year.
He said: "We will make changes next week (against Calvisano in the Heineken Cup) because you cannot afford to have the same 15 players to get you through matches. We cannot afford to lose momentum and I would like to keep us on a roll through Christmas.
"For Olly to enter the fray today was ideal. He is still with England every Monday and Tuesday and then with us which is why he was on the bench. He is going to start next week and this would have been another week to look and watch us but it didn't work that way.
"We still had six players out on international duty and we have benefited from some of the performances made by the youngsters today."
Saints head coach Jim Mallinder admitted it was hard to come away from the match without even a losing bonus point.
Mallinder said: "They were ruthless in the first half and scored some good tries. We created a few, but made a lot of mistakes. It didn't help when they scored just before half-time but even then we knew that if we kept the ball we would have a chance.
"But we were inaccurate. You've got to be accurate and take all the chances you can here. We didn't get the rub of the green and there were some harsh decisions against us, when they didn't stay on their feet, but you've got to cope with that and we were well beaten.
"We are desperately disappointed, but it's not the end of the world losing here."
Gloucester: Balshaw, Watkins, Tindall, Allen, Vainikolo, Lamb, Lewis, Wood, Azam, Nieto, James, Bortolami, Buxton, Strokosch, Narraway.
Replacements: Walker for Watkins (52), Satala for Tindall (64), Barkley for Allen (2), R. Lawson for Lewis (54), Dickinson for Wood (64), S. Lawson for Azam (52). Not Used: Eustace.
Northampton: Myler, Ashton, Reihana, Downey, Diggin, Spencer, Foden, Smith, J. Gray, Murray, Fernandez Lobbe, Day, Easter, S. Gray, Wilson.
Replacements: Dickson for Spencer (60), Mordt for Foden (71), Tonga'uiha for Smith (55), Shields for J. Gray (47), Stewart for Murray (71), Rae for Fernandez Lobbe (64), Hopley for Easter (71).
Ref: R Debney (RFU).
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