Saracens fail to break Kingsholm hoodoo
November 14, 1999
Iain Morrision saw Gloucester 's Simon Manix snatch a late win Gloucester - which puts them equal on points with Bath at the top of Allied Dunbar One.
Saracens have never won a match at Kingsholm, not even a non-league match. Not that today's encounter was ever in danger of being mistaken for a friendly as twice in the opening minutes referee Barnard gave a verbal warning to two Gloucester players for rough stuff.
This was a desperately close encounter that Gloucester just about deserved to win. That unenviable record is still in place and the home side had Simon Mannix's last minute penalty to thank for it. There was too little rugby on offer here and too much aimless kicking, but no shortage of soldiers willing to fight, all too literally, for the cause - heart-warming stuff on a chill November evening.
Simon Mannix traded penalties with Thierry Lacroix in the opening quarter as both sides fought for supremacy. Despite playing uphill it was the home side that enjoyed by far the lion's share of both possession and territory in the opening quarter although Saracens increasingly imposed themselves as the half progressed.
Saracens did have an advantage in the front row with Roberto Grau back to his best following his enforced rest during the RWC'99. The Argentinean was giving England's Phil Vickery a gruelling time in the tight. The sight of several home scrums being rocked backwards was not what the Gloucester shed-heads are accustomed to witnessing. Saracens prop Julian White had to retire with an ugly looking shiner after some unidentified culprit's attempted intimidation.
At least Saracens got a penalty out of it all when they forced the Gloucester front row to stand up under pressure. This allowed Lacroix to give the visitors the slenderest of leads on the twenty-minute mark.
Just as it looked as though the visitors had weathered the West Country's habitual hospitality, the Gloucester forwards found another gear and drove upfield from a lineout. Again the men in black were forced to intercede from an off side position to prevent early release. Mannix levelled the score.
Lacroix had already kicked another penalty when the travelling Fez-heads celebrated the opening try of the match. Richard Tombs badly sqiffed his clearance kick and from the short range lineout the visiting forwards powered second row Bill Davidson over the line. Lacroix made the conversion but Mannix pulled back another three points with the last kick of the half, although the referee had to over rule both linesmen before it was awarded. Just the converted try separated the sides at the break.
Scrum half Nick Walshe spilling the restart was not the sort of start to the second half that the visitors wanted and Mannix was able to keep the cherry and whites in touch with his fourth penalty shortly after the break. Saracens fullback Rob Thirlby had held onto the ball longer than the law allows.
Referee Barnard was already an unpopular man at Kingsholm but when he changed a scrum to a penalty, after some backchat from Richard Tombs, the crowd made clear their opinion of the man in the middle. Lacroix's fourth penalty re-established the visitors seven point lead.
They needed it as Tom Beim then crossed at the opposite end for a well worked home score on the one-hour mark. The Gloucester backs looked to have an overlap on the right side but when Beim held onto the ball he needed Jeremy Thomson's generosity as the Sarries' centre failed to fell the smallest man on the field. Mannix converted the try but astonishingly the fly half then hit the upright with the sort of dead-straight penalty attempt that you'd back your granny to convert and the 19-19 deadlock continued.
With the last kick of the game Simon Mannix made amends with a short-range penalty. Chris Yates had made the half break and substitute Tom Shanklin was adjudged to have made insufficient effort to roll away from his eventual tackle. A little harsh with the Gloucester cavalry bearing down on him but the 9,000 strong crowd was not complaining.
The Gloucester team came back onto the pitch to take a standing ovation and the commentator's appeal for people to stay off the pitch fell on deaf ears. He might as well have requested three cheers for Bath!
As it is the two great West Country rivals share the top place with Gloucester only second on points difference. Saint- André seems to have distilled the Kingsholm spirit despite the foreign legion. What's more this team still has Ian Jones and Junior Paramour to bolster it further.
Perhaps even owner Tom Walkinshaw could afford to sport a smile?