Tristan Roberts on the attack for Gloucester's A side.
Bruce Seabrook/GPA Images
GLOUCESTER were stretched all the way last night by a young but wholly committed Sale Jets side in the Guinness A League.
Mark Cornwell's side won the match 32-31 to stretch their winning run to four matches but this was undoubtedly their toughest examination yet.
Without a regular supply of quality set-piece possession from either scrum or line-out, Gloucester's gifted back-line was forced to live off scraps. It meant the likes of Tristan Roberts and Freddie Burns were only seen in glimpses but both showed enough quality to suggest they will flourish beyond this level.
Roberts always looked to be a threat, either breaking himself or sending Burns and Henry Trinder up the middle but Sale were dogged and determined in defence and always prepared to mix it with their scrummage and line-out.
Had they not kicked away so much possession, they may have got in a position to spring a surprise result but Gloucester's sporadic potency eventually proved too strong.
They were already 3-0 down to a Mark Atkinson penalty when Burns burst up the centre from scrum and when possession came right scrum-half Dave Lewis sent Roberts in for the opening score.
He couldn't add the conversion but when Dan Norton was yellow carded after Nick Royle had got away down the flank, Sale launched a series of attacks close to the sticks. Although Gloucester repelled the danger, Sale retained possession long enough for Atkinson to kick across field to former Gloucester winger Pete Swatkins, who took advantage of the man missing in the back three to score.
It took Gloucester until eight minutes before the break to score again and this time it was Roberts' break and brilliant off-load that created a try for Burns to establish a 12-10 Gloucester lead.
Roberts immediately made it 15-10 with a 42nd minute penalty before Gloucester grabbed their third try. Both teams traded possession cheaply through some poor kicking but when Trinder ran it back, he did so to crucial affect, slicing through the defence on an outside break. Norton took over and prop Jake Meadows scored
But it was not all one way traffic. With Sale's scrum operating well thanks to loose-head Rob O'Donnell and lock Tom Holmes, the Jets were always capable of springing another score and when Atkinson made a clean break from a scrum, the stand-off went in for Sale's third try to cut the gap to 20-17.
However, Gloucester grabbed bonus point when replacement Ollie Winterbottom ran across the face of the Sale defence and off-loaded brilliantly to replacement Mike Stubbs, who reached the line and suddenly Gloucester were 27-17 ahead.
There was still time for Sale hit back, this time through O'Donnell, who ploughed over from short range to leave Gloucester sweating.
With time ebbing away, there was still time for two more tries - one for each side. First, replacement Charlie Simpson-Daniel weaved his way down the short side following a line-out for Gloucester's fifth try and then with the last play of the contest flanker James Jones crossed for the Jets grab a try bonus point for the visitors.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).