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.
Matt Kvesic, skipper for the night at Newcastle, praised the young and reshuffled Gloucester side for their commitment at Kingston Park but regretted the fact that Gloucester couldn't capitalise on an ideal opening to the game.
Speaking with the local media before the Gloucester team set off on the long trip north to Newcastle, Director of Rugby David Humphreys discussed his team selection and stated that Friday night's meeting will be a challenging one.
Speaking to the local media on Thursday, Matt Kvesic was looking forward to the trip to Newcastle Falcons, and the captain is looking to lead from the front with plenty for the Cherry and Whites to work on.
Gloucester saw a 12-0 lead overturned by Harlequins on Friday night as the visitors ran out 22-15 winners. After the game, Director of Rugby David Humphreys spoke about missed opportunities on the night.
Elton John and his band will visit the home of Gloucester Rugby, Kingsholm Stadium on Sunday 7 June as part of their European tour. This will be Elton's first ever performance in Gloucester and tickets are on general sale from 9am on Friday.
Mitcheldean finance specialist Simplicity is proud to become the latest sponsor of Gloucester Rugby. Keen-eyed supporters will notice Simplicity's PayrollSimply logo on Gloucester's ball boy bibs, stadium billboards and programme adverts.