Gloucester 26-24 Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership
Lady Luck is a cruel mistress
Tom Hamilton at Kingsholm
September 21, 2013
Gloucester's Billy Twelvetrees slots a match-winning penalty © PA Photos
In undoubtedly the best game seen in the Aviva Premiership this season, the pendulum of fate swung to and fro but eventually sided in favour of Gloucester at the death.
That old adage of games being decided on the bounce of a ball was illustrated perfectly at Kingsholm.
The ramifications from this game will run and run. In the 78th minute Jamie Elliot scored what should have been the match-winning try. But instead the Saints will come away from Kingsholm with just one point.
Northampton will quite rightly feel aggrieved at referee Martin Fox's officiating in the dying embers of the match with him ignoring four Gloucester runners offside at the last restart of the game and then somehow turning a blind eye to Ben Morgan hooking the ball back into the scrum which helped contribute to the winning penalty. The Saints will feel robbed.
When Fox blew the full-time whistle at Kingsholm the reaction was if Gloucester had just won the Aviva Premiership. There seemed to be a moment of jubilation followed by a collective exhale. But there was no history made at Kingsholm, instead an unwanted record was prevented.
Had Gloucester lost this match, something that looked within the realms of possibility when Ben Foden, who was one of the Saints' standout players alongside Calum Clark, gave the Cherry and White's defence scant regard when he darted over just five minutes in, then it would have been the first time in their Premiership history they had lost the first three games in a season.
Seasons are sometimes decided on small margins. Northampton showed enough about them to be rightly deemed as a title challenger this season while Gloucester are short of the finished article, but if you want drama and an increase in blood pressure, Kingsholm is the venue for you this term.
But time and time again, despite attacking territory and team-mates screaming for the ball and offering options either side of the man running forward, nothing quite worked for Gloucester. The ball was either draw to touch instead of Cherry and White hands or on occasions floundering paws failed to dot the ball down with the try line.
It's been the story of their season, those odd unforeseen circumstances that are hard to plan for and then difficult to rationalise afterwards.
You can do as much handling training during the week as time allows, but you cannot replicate that in big matches. Passes need to find team-mates, not the opposition or the turf. You expect Davies and the rest of his coaching team would have been furious with the number of chances they coughed up in the first 40.
Sione Kalamafoni, so often lauded last season, will wince when he sees again the chance he squandered in the 27th minute when he had two players on his outside but instead flung the ball to the back of James Simpson-Daniel's heel rather than his welcoming hands.
Billy Twelvetrees also interspersed moments of brilliance with bizarre calls. However, he had the kahunas to kick the winning penalty and grab a key try. The battle of the flankers was one of the billed match-ups to keep collective England-tinted eyes on, but Luther Burrell's battle with Twelvetrees was just as fascinating. Burrell's brute force caused Gloucester difficulties but Twelvetrees hands and vision offer an entirely different threat. Drop in Kyle Eastmond and Stuart Lancaster has a tough call on who to start at No.12 in the autumn internationals.
But behind a floundering pack, Freddie Burns had to work off scraps but provided sparks of brilliance. Although he is just 23, he plays with a confidence and swagger that belies his age. He is not afraid to try things, which may inadvertently act against him as a starting ten for England as you imagine he sometimes throws the proverbial playbook out of the window. Nigel Davies hinted at his displeasure at Burns' decision to tap and run in the final stages of the game instead of kicking an easy three points. But that's what you get with him, a free spirit that will win you more games than you lose.
Make no bones about it, Davies was under pressure going into this match. Two losses on the bounce was not how he would have envisaged this season starting but they have that albatross of their back now. Post-match, Mallinder sat in front of the press and looked as if he was literally biting his tongue to prevent any comments concerning the referee landing him in hot water with the Rugby Football Union. He was clearly livid with Fox's performance.
Private vents of frustration will inevitably recur for the next few days and while Gloucester celebrated at the full-time whistle, Davies' heartbeat went through the roof and players and coaches attempted to comprehend what had just played out in front of them following Twelvetrees' penalty, Mallinder kicked the nearest object to him. Fortunately for him it was not Dorian West, or the fourth official.
It was a wonderful spectacle at Kingsholm, rugby at its finest but the headlines will ignore that tomorrow. There will no mention of George North's dancing feet to see up the try that should have won the game. Instead, they will focus on Fox's shortcomings. It just doesn't seem right.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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