Gloucester 28-22 Bristol, Premiership Final, June 8
Gloucester claim Zurich Championship crown
June 8, 2002
Phil Vickery lifts the Championship trophy
© Getty Images
Gloucester 28-22 Bristol
Gloucester have claimed the Zurich Championship title after a 28-22 victory over Bristol at Twickenham.
Both sides produced more than anyone could reasonably have expected at the end of English rugby's most demanding campaign - but in the end it was the Kingsholm club who today collected their first trophy outright since 1978.
The Cherry and Whites were never at their best this afternoon against a plucky Shoguns outfit who outscored them two tries to one, but new coach Nigel Melville saw his side grind out a victory their impressive season has deserved.
Jake Boer grabbed his side's only try before the break, with Agustin Pichot and Paul Johnstone replying for Bristol. Shoguns stand-off Felipe Contepomi recorded a 100% record from his five attempts. But opposite number Ludovic Mercier had more chances, collecting a personal haul of 23 points to leave spirited Bristol clutching at the consolation prize of Heineken Cup combat next season.
It was a welcome spectacle for the tournament organisers, who had spent months trying to convince the rugby public that the top-eight play-offs were a worthwhile concept. They even offered two European berths, including a second seeding, to the competing clubs - although ironically even Bristol accepted that reaching the northern hemisphere's most prestigious club competition with their win over Northampton last weekend was of more importance than coming out on top in today's game itself.
The public cannot be fooled so easily - and, although a healthy contingent made their way down the M4 from both clubs, outside the west country it was a game of little relevance or wider interest. Gloucester started favourites and looked to be heading for a straightforward victory when Mercier booted them in front with two penalties.
The first came courtesy of a favourable deflection off the crossbar, and in between his two successful efforts came an ambitious punt from inside his own half which narrowly drifted wide. It took Bristol 15 minutes to settle into their first final appearance since 1988, and then they threatened to make a game of it.
Contepomi, who scored all his side's 32 points against the Saints last week, landed an easy penalty before being offered the chance to level the scores when French prop Patrice Collazo hauled Pichot to the floor by his throat to earn himself a 10-minute spell in the sin-bin.
With a man advantage, it should have been the time for Bristol to take control. But instead they seemed to lack direction, and Gloucester looked like surviving long before Phil Christophers evened up the numbers. Christophers has been touted as a Test candidate on England's tour to Argentina, but manager Clive Woodward would not have been too impressed to see the young winger haul back Tom Beim as he attempted to collect Henry Paul's pass on halfway.
Once Collazo had returned, Gloucester turned up the pressure - and it was the burly prop who took Paul's pass and then released Boer on his inside for the opening try two minutes before the break. It could have been a crucial period for the Cherry and Whites as Mercier not only landed the conversion but booted his team further clear with a stoppage-time penalty.
Thirteen points adrift, Bristol needed to score first after the interval and did just that thanks to Pichot's quick thinking after Contepomi had been caught by a late Gloucester tackle. The Argentine scrum-half, showing measurably more awareness than his football-playing countrymen had in Sapporo yesterday, left the Gloucester defence standing as he took a quick tap and ducked under Paul's weak tackle to slide home.
With the gap back to three and some of Gloucester's forwards - notably Junior Paramore - misfiring, Bristol knew they had a chance of overturning the pre-match odds. Even when Mercier landed two penalties in five minutes, they refused to buckle. Replacement back-row Ross Beattie won a line-out 20 metres from the Gloucester line and produced a basketball pass to prop Paul Johnstone, who shrugged off the attentions of Beim and plunged over.
Contepomi's touchline conversion offered fresh hope, and he quickly exchanged penalties with Mercier to set up a pulsating finish. Bristol struggled on to try to create a match-winning chance. But Gloucester's blanket defence swamped them, and Mercier sealed the win with his final kick four minutes into stoppage time.
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