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.
Greig Laidlaw skippers the Cherry and Whites on Friday evening, when they head to Sale Sharks for the penultimate game of this season's Aviva Premiership. The Scottish half back spoke to GRTV about the challenge posed in Salford.
Previewing Friday night's Aviva Premiership fixture away at Sale Sharks, Head Coach Laurie Fisher acknowledged the fine home record that the Salford based outfit have built up this season, but is looking for Gloucester to round off their campaign on a high note.
Speaking to GRTV following the 16-9 victory over Exeter, Tom Savage felt that Gloucester needed that win after a tough few weeks and hopes that it acts as a springboard to a good end to the season for the Cherry and Whites.
A week on from '...letting down ourselves, the jersey and the supporters...', skipper Greig Laidlaw was full of praise for his team mates following the 16-9 Aviva Premiership win over Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm on Friday evening.
With Gloucester looking to bounce back after exiting the European Rugby Challenge Cup last Saturday, Director of Rugby David Humphreys told the local media that the visit of Exeter Chiefs on Friday evening (kick off 7:45pm) will be a big test of character for the Cherry and Whites.
Rob Cook couldn't hide his disappointment when he spoke to GRTV following the 21-23 defeat at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday, stating that Gloucester simply hadn't been good enough on the day as their reign as European Rugby Challenge Cup holders comes to an end.
Four penalties from the boot of skipper Greig Laidlaw were just enough to see Gloucester dog out a tense 12-11 win at Sale on Friday evening and thwart the home team's attempts to finish the season unbeaten at home.
Thirteen years on from Gloucester Rugby's famous Powergen Cup victory over Northampton at Twickenham, many of the players and management from that side are gathering once more to recreate that famous day.