Gloucester cement top spot
February 14, 2009
Gloucester's Rory Lawson is tackled by Sale's Neil Briggs at Kingsholm
© Getty Images
Gloucester went four points clear at the top of the Guinness Premiership today with another comeback victory over high-flying Sale Sharks at Kingsholm.
The visitors led 17-8 at half-time, with Charlie Hodgson scoring 12 points, but the hosts fought back to take the lead just four minutes into the second period. Gloucester took full advantage of the late first-half sin-binning of Sale's Lee Thomas, with Apolosi Satala touching down.
Olly Barkley kicked the resulting conversion and two further penalties before a Ryan Lamb drop-goal sealed victory for Gloucester to remain top of the standings. The hosts may have been on top of the table before kick-off but these had been worrying times around Kingsholm due to a mid-season slump.
That saw them lose three of their last four matches, with last weekend's 23-21 home victory over London Irish only achieved by virtue of a late comeback. In contrast, the Sharks have instilled some bite into their game and won their last three league games to lie just two points off Gloucester.
The Sharks, led by England fly-half Hodgson, devoured Gloucester's early mistakes. Hodgson landed a 27-metre penalty before centre Thomas took a pass off wing Chris Bell to race 20 metres to the posts and give Hodgson the easiest of conversions.
Gloucester's first serious attack on the Sale line after 20 minutes got them their first points through a Barkley penalty from 25 metres. But Gloucester sparked into action late in the first half. Wing Mark Foster finished off a rousing attack, started by full-back Iain Balshaw and flanker Satala before the ball was whizzed across the back division to the left corner. Gloucester were also denied two tries in the last couple of minutes, while Thomas was yellow-carded for a late tackle.
But the visitors defied their numerical disadvantage when Chris Jones intercepted Barkley's pass on his own 22. The flanker charged towards halfway, passed out to Bell and, as he slowed, Hodgson was on hand to take the pass and run in from 30 metres. His conversion handed Sale a nine-point lead at the interval.
Within seconds of the re-start, Gloucester were over the Sale line for a second time. A move down the left saw Barkley make ground, give the ball to wing James Simpson-Daniel for a quick flick to flanker Satala to rumble under the posts from 20 metres.
The hosts then took the lead as a second Barkley penalty gave them an 18-17 advantage. Sale began to struggle as new Gloucester recruit Carlos Spencer orchestrated further probes into their territory. Barkley missed three long-range penalties inside 12 minutes but the pressure was beginning to tell on the visitors.
Replacement lock Brent Cockbain, the former Wales international, did Sale no favours when, within five minutes of replacing Sean Cox, he was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball. Barkley found the target with the 25-metre shot.
The England centre had a shot at sealing it for Gloucester with three minutes to go but his 35-metre penalty fell short before a 30-metre drop goal from Lamb, Spencer's replacement, finished off the Sharks.
Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan hailed the performance of debutant Spencer, "I was really pleased with Carlos and Barks [Olly Barkley] and the relationship that is growing off that. Carlos has looked sharp for a week, I would not have played him otherwise. He has come in deliberately just to change the dynamics and he has done that.
"At the same time, he has lifted people which fits quite neatly into what we are trying to do. There are elements that we will talk about on Monday and things he could have done better but we will also show the seven or eight things that he brings to us. "It is an understanding because his brain works at a million miles an hour."
Ryan added, "The only thing they were thriving on were mistakes. Both of their tries came through mistakes and they never looked like troubling us. They have some talented individuals in broken play and they got some points from it. We talked at half-time that, if we can get on top of them as a team, we will get more opportunities."
Sale head coach Kingsley Jones admitted, "It's a game we certainly could have won and there are not many teams who can come to Kingsholm and say that. We needed to play it for more than 30 minutes. In the second half, we simply made too many errors. We have played what is put in front of us.
"It was a game of two halves and we lost our composure and discipline at times. I think he (referee Martin Fox) has guessed that situation and he has given Cockbain off his feet. But he has gone through the back of the ruck so I'm disappointed it's a yellow card - I don't think that would have happened at Edgeley Park (Sale's home ground). We fell off a couple of tackles in the game which I'm disappointed about, but there we go."
Gloucester: Balshaw, Foster, Watkins, Barkley, Simpson-Daniel, Spencer, R. Lawson, Wood, Azam, Somerville, James, Brown, Satala, Hazell, Delve, Lamb.
Replacements: Sharples for Watkins (28), Allen for Simpson-Daniel (65), Lamb for Spencer (68), Eustace for James (69), Titterrell for Lamb (71). Not Used: Forster, Williams.
Sale: McLeod, Bell, McAlister, Thomas, Ripol, Hodgson, Wigglesworth, Roberts, Bruno, Turner, Schofield, Cox, C. Jones, Abraham, Fernandez Lobbe.
Replacements: Kuadey for Ripol (50), Briggs for Bruno (57), Cockbain for Cox (57), M. Jones for Abraham (69). Not Used: O'Donnell, Leck, Keil.
Sin Bin: Cockbain (61).
Ref: Martin Fox (RFU).