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.
Argentine international Mariano Galarza made his Gloucester Rugby debut on Sunday afternoon, and despite a disappointing reverse to Sale Sharks, the giant Puma was just glad to be making his long-awaited bow in Cherry and White.
Having skippered Scotland to a hard fought 25-13 defeat against England at Twickenham on Saturday, Greig Laidlaw spoke of the frustrations of his side doing so many good things and making real progress as a team but still finishing on the wrong end of the scoreline.
GRTV caught up with Neil McCarthy as he was unveiled as the new Head of Academy. The ex-Gloucester front rower is looking forward to getting to work with the vast arrays of talent in the Academy and across Gloucestershire.
Although understandably disappointed to see Northampton snatch a 33-33 draw with a last gasp try on Saturday, Gareth Evans told GRTV after the game that the result shows how far Gloucester have come as a team this season.
Gloucester scrum half Greig Laidlaw spoke to GRTV after the 33-33 draw with Northampton Saints on Saturday, and the Scotsman described how the hosts played some great rugby, but will rue not holding the lead which keeps them in touch with the top seven.
Although Gloucester could take many positives from the 33-33 draw with Northampton Saints on Saturday, centre Bill Meakes admitted it was a strange feeling at the final whistle with Gloucester having probably done enough to win the game.
Speaking after the 33-33 draw with Northampton Saints on Saturday, David Humphreys admitted that he was happy with many aspects of the team's performance but regretted a missed opportunity to defeat the Premiership champions.
Hartpury U18s won the AASE league for the sixth year in a row last week beating Filton College in the Final at Allianz Park by 50 points to nil, while Bromsgrove School won their first NatWest U18 Schools Cup.
Gloucester Rugby would like to inform supporters about an exciting opportunity for you to raise money for your chosen charity or chosen cause. 2015 is an exciting year for Gloucester, with Kingsholm Stadium hosting four fixtures for Rugby World Cup 2015.