Gloucester edge out London Welsh
March 23, 2013
Gloucester edge out London Welsh%]
A late Freddie Burns penalty propelled Gloucester to a narrow 15-14 victory over a brave London Welsh at Kingsholm on Saturday.
Burns broke London Welsh hearts with a penalty five minutes from time that denied the Premiership relegation favourites a famous victory. Wing Phil MacKenzie's 52nd-minute try and three penalties by fly-half Gordon Ross put Premiership basement club London Welsh on the verge of only their fifth league win this season.
It would have closed the gap to two points on Sale Sharks - 14-13 conquerors of Bath last night - but Gloucester fly-half Burns had other ideas. Although the England international missed four shots at goal, he booted five others to keep Gloucester's title play-off hopes alive hopes.
London Welsh, in contrast, are now five points behind Sale with four games left, although that could change early next week. Welsh have appealed a five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player - scrum-half Tyson Keats - in the Premiership this season, and the result of their appeal hearing is expected to be made public during the next 72 hours.
They need it to work in their favour, given that their remaining Premiership fixtures are away against Bath and London Irish, plus home appointments with Northampton and Worcester. The Exiles could hardly have given any more, yet Gloucester prevailed despite being off-colour in most key areas, as Burns' boot decided a dire contest.
Gloucester welcomed back England centre Billy Twelvetrees from Six Nations duty in a team captained by Scotland lock Jim Hamilton, while there were also starts for long-serving flankers Peter Buxton and Andy Hazell, but prop Nick Wood was a late withdrawal, with Dan Murphy replacing him.
London Welsh saw Wales international Gavin Henson sidelined by calf muscle trouble, so Gordon Ross deputised at fly-half as the Exiles targeted their first league victory since beating London Irish on December 1.
Burns and Ross kicked early penalties, but the initial exchanges were littered by mistakes with neither team able to put together a meaningful passage of play. The rugby matched cold, overcast conditions, and with referee Martin Fox readily whistling at every opportunity, there was precious little for a 14,600 crowd to be enthused by.
Even Twelvetrees could make little headway against a London Welsh outfit that offered next to nothing in attack, but they defended strongly and were organised under their all-Welsh coaching team of Lyn Jones and Kingsley Jones. It was sufficient to comfortably keep Gloucester at bay, and a dreadful first half ended with Ross and Burns kicking further penalties, making it 6-6 before the teams trooped off.
For a team chasing this season's play-off spots, Gloucester were abject during the opening 40 minutes, but there was no immediate sign of an improvement after the break. They were temporarily reduced to 14 men after 43 minutes when wing Jonny May was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on inside his own 22, and Ross completed his penalty hat-trick with the resulting kick.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies' patience then appeared to run out, as he hauled off Buxton and Hazell, replacing them with Tom Savage and Akapusi Qera in an attempt to kick-start his team. But London Welsh continued to grow in confidence, and a superb midfield break by wing Seb Stegmann almost produced the opening try after Burns had rifled a penalty chance wide.
Gloucester's Akapusi Qera takes the attack to London Welsh's Gordon Ross © Getty Images
The visitors' back row ball carriers - notably number eight Daniel Browne - also began making headway, and Gloucester's defence was finally breached with May still off. Slick midfield passing proved enough to unlock the Gloucester defence, and when prop James Tideswell was tackled just short of the line, MacKenzie finished off.
Burns' conversion attempt hit the post, but London Welsh were good value for their 14-6 advantage in front of a stunned Gloucester crowd. Ross should have extended London Welsh's lead after 59 minutes, but he sent an angled penalty chance wide, which meant Gloucester remained within striking distance entering the final quarter.
Burns then narrowed the gap with his third successful penalty before another strike eight minutes later set up a fraught finale, with London Welsh aiming to hang on. But the visitors could not hold out, and when Burns inched Gloucester ahead there was no way back for a battling, resilient London Welsh outfit.
London Welsh boss Lyn Jones vowed his side would keep fighting on despite a major setback to their survival hopes. "When I joined London Welsh I said there wasn't an experience in rugby that I hadn't come across, but I was wrong. What is going on is another test that is energy-sapping," Jones said.
"We just to try to keep our focus on what we can influence, which is results and the scoreboard. We need to keep believing. When you are a professional sportsman, 80% of the time is dealing with rejection and disappointment, and you have to have a mental toughness to deal with that.
"There is nothing we can do in terms of the appeal, but when we are on the field we can do something about it, which is what I keep telling the players. We need to turn up next Saturday at Bath and do the best we can, and then likewise against Northampton, London Irish and Worcester. Can we win the four games? Potentially, we can."
Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies admitted his over-riding emotion was one of relief as his players ground out a win six days before hosting Premiership champions Harlequins. "London Welsh made it very difficult for us, which we knew they would. They had a real cause today, and they represented that cause very well," he said. "We didn't play well. We have got to look long and hard at ourselves. We don't want to perform like that, we want to play a bit more rugby, but unfortunately we couldn't do that.
"There were a lot of opportunities out there that went missing. It was really disappointing, but we've got the four points and we have now got a huge challenge on Friday against one of the form teams. Every point at this stage of the season is vitally important. If we can win our next four games we will probably be in the top four.
Gloucester's Dario Chistolini runs into London Welsh's Dan George © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery