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.
Defence Coach Jonny Bell admitted this week that the European Rugby Challenge Cup victory in Bayonne was a welcome one, stressed that Benetton Treviso will pose a tough test on Saturday at Kingsholm but that Gloucester are determined to deliver in front of their own fans.
Motu Matu'u is looking to make up for lost time this week as the Cherry and Whites head to Basque Country to take on Bayonne in the European Rugby Challenge Cup opener. The Samoan hooker made his first appearance in the jersey last weekend, and is hoping to contribute to the team this weekend.
Gloucester's attentions turn to Europe this weekend as they travel to Bayonne for their opening fixture of this season's European Rugby Challenge Cup. Forwards Coach Trevor Woodman told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will be aiming to top their pool as they've done for the past two seasons, but is well aware of how tough it is to win in France.
Although understandably disappointed at seeing victory slip away at the last minute, Ben Morgan said after the game at Exeter that there were plenty of positives that Gloucester could take from the game.
Speaking after a last-gasp try from Exeter earned the Chiefs a 27-27 draw at Sandy Park on Saturday, Charlie Sharples admitted to mixed feelings. The game saw him score a try on his 200th competitive appearance for the club, but the frustration from not closing out the win was clear.
David Humphreys was minutes away from a winning interview on Saturday afternoon, but a late try from Exeter Chiefs meant the points were shared at Sandy Park. Humphreys spoke with the local media after the 27-27 draw.
Speaking to the media ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership fixture away at Exeter Chiefs, Director of Rugby David Humphreys reiterated that there are elements of Gloucester's game that are in good shape at present, that the performance against Bath was a step forward from Newcastle but that individual errors are costing the Cherry and Whites dear.
Centre Matt Scott, a try-scorer in Bayonne last weekend, insists that Gloucester are taking nothing for granted when they welcome Benetton Treviso to Kingsholm on Saturday in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 3pm).