GLOUCESTER geared up for their opening Guinness Premiership fixture against Bath next Saturday with a thoroughly absorbing 29-22 victory over Llanelli at Kingsholm.
There is a lot to be said for doing things the hard way and Gloucester's pre-season campaign has been examining, tough and not without its casualties.
But that will ensure they meet Bath next week knowing the laws of the jungle and their final pre-season run-out was played at full pitch with an intensity level not far off the real thing they can expect in the next nine months.
Gloucester showed they are capable of creating a serious number of chances and if they can reign in that ambition slightly and combine it with a touch more composure, they will surely begin to motor.
There were some excellent performances, from James Forrester's unpredictable brilliance on the loose, to Peter Buxton's monstrous work rate and the destructive tackling of Andy Hazell - they all played their part.
Rudi Keil ran hard in the centre, Willie Walker has a dextrous touch with ball in hand, Jack Adams gets better with each game and Iain Balshaw got valuable miles in his legs.
Gloucester were 6-0 up thanks to two Walker penalties after two and six minutes and then 7-6 down after shipping a try to Gavin Evans, who slipped his midfield markers to ghost unattended beneath the sticks after 12 minutes following good work from Dwayne Peel.
There was plenty going on in and around the contact area, while the line-out and scrums were also fiercely contested. Llanelli got themselves between the ball and the man sufficiently to prevent two certain Gloucester scores in the opening quarter and it was so blatant that Inoke Afeaki was red carded in the second half following his second illegal intervention.
However, the home side regrouped and scored their first try after 18 minutes. Walker's penalty was driven to touch and skipper Marco Bortolami dragged in the line-out catch to set up the drive. After Llanelli held the initial surge, Richards combined with Walker beautifully and Keil sent James Bailey, in off his wing, to the line.
Walker converted for a 13-7 lead. Gloucester dominated territory but Stephen Jones cut the gap by three points again with another penalty before Forrester almost created a second try for Bailey with a brilliant break but his over-head pass was ruled forward.
Neither set of forwards traded an inch but in the second half, Gloucester gradually took control. Olivier Azam, adding his own kind of very special physicality, sent Buxton on a thudding break and from the penalty, Walker made it 16-10 after 42 minutes.
Gloucester could hve broken the back of the match at this stage. The piled pressure on the Llanelli line but the Scarlets defended brilliantly and then turned over possession and scored themselves.
After Gloucester had committed numbers, Evans led the break-out to streak home and hand Llanelli a one-point lead.
But they soon lost Afeaki to the red card and a man down, Gloucester turned the screw. Walker made it 19-17 and then 22-17 with two more penalties before Forrester's moment of class sealed the game.
Azam took a strike against the head and the number eight picked up, beat the cover and stepped past Clive Stuart-Smith for his 71st minute score.
Not even a try for Stuart-Smith - against his old club - could salvage anything for the Scarlets as Gloucester claimed a hard-earned and crucial pre-season victory.
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