16 December 2000
Gloucester a poor second best
Northampton 34 Gloucester 15
THE MARGIN OF VICTORY MAY HAVE FLATTERED THE SAINTS but the result certainly did not. Two tries in the final ten minutes were the icing on the cake as far as Northampton were concerned to wrap up the league points for the home side.
Overall it was dire display from Gloucester in a poor game. Quite who had the worst performance on the day is difficult to decide. It was either the referee Mr S. Leyshon or the Gloucester team. In truth neither of them will wish to remember their actions on the day.
In a bruising encounter, the Gloucester front row of Vickery, Azam and Woodman were extremely combative in all phases of the game. Fierce forward exchanges frequently boiled over and showed the inexperienced referee to be out of his depth and the game out of his control. It does beg the question as to whether relatively raw referees should be in charge of important games of such intensity. New officials need experience, of that there is no doubt but the RFU should be more selective in the choice of matches for officials to gain that experience.
If the Gloucester pack was ultra competitive the same could not be said of the performance behind the scrum for that was very much a different matter. The line kicking in particular and play in general from the half backs at best was indifferent and apart from the powerful but predictable charges from centre Chris Yates, the Cherry and Whites had precious little to offer and rarely looked like conjuring up a try. The lack of pace behind the scrum was obviuos for all to see with no variety, guile or enterprise evident. Jason Little looked unfit and was disappointing and it came as no surprise when he made an early exit.
Matt Dawson was once again a constant thorn in the Gloucester side. Last season at Kingsholm he scored eighteen points.
This time, unlike his petulant acts of gamesmanship, Dawson's goal kicking was near perfect with a personal tally of nineteen points.
Gloucester's indiscipline was in much the same vein as in the previous match at Welford Road when Tim Stimpson landed eight penalties to punish the Cherry and Whites. Dawson contributed 15 penalty points, therefore Gloucester's indiscretions have cost them the total of 34 points in the last two games. No team can realistically expect success whilst conceding so many penalties.
It could be argued that Northampton profited from the referee's decisions as many of their indiscrteions went unpunished that is the nature of competition. Certainly very few of the fifty-fifty decisions went to the visitors but Gloucester are slow to learn the damaging cost of conceding too many kickable penalties.
Gloucester were in the lead just once, thanks to a snap drop goal from Elton Moncrieff as the Gloucester pack got off to a storming start. As the forward exchanges became more geated Dawson slotted the penalty kicks and the Saints set up a series of rucks on the visitors' line before Matt Allen eventually battered his way over the line. Junior Parramore was sent to the sin-bin but fortunatley for Gloucester only one penalty was conceded during his absence. The half-time score of 13-6 to the home side showed there was little difference between the two sides but crucially Gloucester twice missed out on the chance of a vital try. A series of drives to the Saints' line was ended when Chris Yates was held up home side players from clear off-side positions. Gloucester were awarded the scrum but for once Saints wheeled the scrum and the chance was lost.
Northampton were still desperately defending their line, Byron Hayward came from full back to cross the try line only to be called back as the referee awarded a penalty to Gloucester! What advantage rule?
Gloucester have now gone six matches without scoring a second half try. Poor ball retention and indiscipline meant that there was no sustained momentum or pressure on the opponents. Replacement Jake Boer went close but although down to fourteen men, Northampton had the last word as winger Ben Cohen profited from a well worked over-lap to score before Harvey Thorneycroft scored his 100th try for Saints in injury time.
If Gloucester play well they can beat any side in the Premiership. Too often they play poorly and lose. This is why the present side is only a mid-table side.
Consistency is sadly lacking.