QUALITY is not a word that will be associated with the Zurich Championship Semi-final clash at Sale. Too many errors meant the standard of play never matched the temperature on a hard Heywood Road pitch, where the mercury was well into the seventies.COSTLY ERRORS>
Gomarsall and Mercier ran the game but the errors were costly and if Gloucester had taken all their chances they could have been out of sight by the break. But their passing and handling were not up to standard and they also suffered from some shoddy line out play
At the start of the second half Gloucester were let down by poor line kicking which surrendered possession and gained no territory but allowed Sale to either run the ball back or find touch deep in their opponent’s half.
What will stick in the mind is the result, as the Cherry and Whites ended their twelve year Twickenham drought. At the same time they avenged their Parker Pen Shield defeat by Sale at Northampton in emphatic, three tries to one fashion, in an exhausting encounter, to set up a Final with local rivals Bristol.
Gloucester’s dominant front row, Vickery, Azam and Collazo, set up the platform for total superiority over Sale in the set-pieces and even achieved three strikes against the head!
Gloucester’s pack steamrollered the way to Twickenham, decimating the Sale eight in the process, to set up a 19-3 interval lead. Despite turning round similar deficits against Wasps and Pontypridd in their last two fixtures, this time there was no way back for Sale. They may have paraded the Parker Pen European Shield round the ground before the game, backed up by the music ‘We are the champions’ but on this occasion they had to settle for second best.
Despite falling foul of the referee Steve Lander’s law interpretations in a couple of the early scrums, Gloucester exerted tremendous pressure all afternoon and soon built up a 10-0 lead through a Ludovic Mercier penalty and a try from Koli Sewabu as the Cherry and White’s power pack disrupted a Sale scrum and Ludo duly obliged with the conversion.
Terry Fanolua was penalised for holding on and Hodgson kicked the goal but Ludo soon added to the score with another penalty.
Gloucester should have had two further tries but missed out on the Sale line and Darren O’Leary went so close, as his kick ahead just beat him over the dead ball line.
Ludo then kicked a 40 yard drop goal and a further penalty as Sale suffered in the scrum, to give the visitors a 16 point half-time advantage.
England’s star full back Jason Robinson, Player of the Year, took advantage of one loose kick to chip ahead from his own 22 and then seized on the bouncing ball to feed centre Martin Shaw who sent the impressive Sale winger Mark Cueto in to score in the corner. The conversion was missed but the home side were right back in it at 19-11 after 60 minutes.
Robert Todd and Henry Paul each produced try saving tackles as Gloucester weathered the Sale storm.
Earlier in the season Gloucester may well have folded but captain Phil Vickery urged his troops on, back into their opponents half. Another scrum was won against the head before eventually the irrepressible Jake Boer won vital turnover ball for Andy Gomarsall to break through for a sharp try.
Sale tried to press forward but again fumbling behind the scrum wasted what little possession they had, as Cueto dropped a pass and Gloucester winger Tom Beim, formerly of Sale, picked up and streaked away for the try that sealed a well deserved win for the Cherry and Whites.
CROWD IN FULL VOICE
The large and vociferous Gloucester travelling support were now in full song as the chant ‘Twickenham, Twickenham’ reverberated round the ground but the biggest cheer was reserved for Steve Lander, who was accidentally felled and the referee took no further part in the match.
Although tired aching battered bodies littered the field of play in the closing stages, there was no doubting Gloucester’s will and desire to win. Despite being without injured young England superstars James Simpson-Daniel and James Forrester, their absence was not as great as first feared.
Andy Gomarsall’s rich vein of form continues and Ludo put the memory of Northampton behind him with 18 points.
Gloucester let themselves down at Northampton. Let us all hope and pray that there is no let down next week at Twickenham.
It has been a long hard season but we have buried the ghost of Bath, now for Bristol.
One last big effort.
We can do it.
Go On Glos!