OUTCLASSED and out of the Heineken European Cup, Gloucester made a sad and sorry costly exit at Thomond Park in Limerick to an inspired Munster side that outplayed the visitors in all phases of the game.FORWARDS TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS
It worked against Gloucester, whose much vaunted pack of forwards was really taken to the cleaners.
Gloucester did not even come a close second to an Irish side that produced a performance of raw passion and pride with a determined commitment, backed by a fervent home crowd, that Gloucester came nowhere near to matching at any time during the game.
Gloucester’s only points came from the boot of Ludovic Mercier, whereas the Irish side scored tries at regular intervals finishing up with a converted fourth try in injury time to secure their points difference qualification to the quarter-finals.
It was a dramatic Irish fairy tale finish to a match that many had thought Gloucester might win but if not, could still qualify. It was not to be.
Perhaps it was the special atmosphere of Thomond Park but Gloucester were never seriously in contention. Munster have not lost there since 1995, they have never lost a European Cup game at their Limerick stronghold and qualified each year since 1998. A real graveyard for visitors and Gloucester were duly buried with all the others.
How good it is to not to hear the soccer style chanting, booing, whistling and the abuse of the place kickers, so often heard at Zurich Premiership matches and in France but total and absolute silence - just as off-putting to any visitors.
Thomond Park on any day is bleak, with just one stand set in a mass of concrete terracing, one clubhouse and one hot dog stall. But on a wet day when your side has just been beaten as Gloucester had, the word depressing takes on a whole new meaning.
Pre-match entertainment Irish style is limited to a few Irish pop songs, Van Morrison style and a P.A system announcer that pumps up the partisan crowd to all sing ‘Stand up and fight like hell’-Carmen, Irish style.
The scrum was always under pressure, [much as it was in Perpignan] the line-out was again a shambles and uncompetitive, whilst behind the scrum the backs ended up at sixes and sevens as the rear-guard action took its toll and the whole team were rattled.
Henry Paul was a liability at full back and was targeted with a barrage of Garry Owens and serious questions must be asked of any rugby player who lets the ball bounce.
All in all, no Gloucester player could be satisfied with their performances. Whoever had played would have made precious little difference to the result.
The team were denied possession and comprehensively turned over by a rampant Irish team. Gloucester had got it horribly wrong from the start by attempting to play a containing game to limit Munster’s try scoring.
The Cherry and Whites were taken to pieces in the forwards and left with scraps of possession and quite unable to gain any territory or retain possession for any length of time. The writing was on the wall after the first quarter and as Munster’s confidence grew, Gloucester struggled more and more.
O’GARA CALLED THE SHOTS
Ronan O’Gara swapped early penalties with Ludo but then the Munsterman began to call the shots.
Few 50/50 decisions went Gloucester’s way. Penalties started to flow the way of the home side as Munster kicked to the corners before Kelly crossed for his first try following a break by scrum half Peter Stringer.
Gloucester lost Peter Buxton to the sin-bin just before the interval and Munster immediately made it hurt with their second try from Lawlor and at half time the home side had a healthy advantage 16-6.
Munster continued to bombard the Gloucester defence with high balls from influential fly-half O’Gara and the pressure of one way traffic told when Munster drove O’Driscoll over and with successful kicks pushed the score to 26-6. Munster sensed the initiative was with them when Ollie Azam became the second player to be yellow carded the day went from bad to worse. No side can afford to be a man short for twenty minutes.
O’Gara’s kicking kept Gloucester on the back foot as Munster kept up the pressure before Kelly got his second try and the impressive O’Gara performed the ‘coup de grace’ with his injury time conversion.
There were emotional scenes for the jubilant Irish after the final whistle as the Munster players led the joyous singing celebrating a deserved famous victory.
For Gloucester nothing. The biggest defeat and try-less for the first time this season and with four tries conceded, a devastating blow to the confidence.
The next few games now take on a very special significance with the nagging thought that if the rest of the season goes as badly wrong we could well end up with nothing.
No time for recriminations but time to move on.