MARK FOSTER'S dazzling try set Gloucester up for a hard-earned west country derby victory over Bristol last night.
The winger cut a devastating line off his wing from a line-out to combine with scrum-half Jimmy Williams and stand-off Ludovic Mercier to burst past Lee Robinson and use his pace to get round the cover to establish a commanding Gloucester lead they just managed to maintain in the 20-19 win.
Foster was instrumental in Gloucester's first try too. Foster burst through the defence to find Rudi Keil, who did brilliantly under heavy pressure to find Jon Goodridge and the full-back beat James Lumby to the posts.
Thereafter, Bristol used their superior tight forward game to unload wave after wave of pressure. Throught Craig Sharort and Mariano Sambucetti, they had two stand-out performers and when they kept the pressure on for long enough after 31 minutes, Sambucetti scored from close range.
Both teams made mistakes and turned the ball over but there was plenty of good work from Adam Eustace, Dan Tuohy and James Vernon against a heavier set of forwards.
However, Bristol reduced the deficit immediately after the interval when Sambucetti crossed from close range and this time Jason Strange converted to leave Gloucester 14-12 ahead.
The tide was with Bristol now and they penned Gloucester back for long periods. Only excellent Gloucester defence close to the line prevented even further damage but after 55 minutes Sambucetti completed his hat-trick to edge Bristol ahead.
Strange converted but in truth he had a horrid night. Soon after he slammed the post with a kickable penalty and the game changed. Mercier banged over three points for Gloucester and with some hard midfield running from Keil, Gloucester began to force mistakes.
They grafted hard around the fringes and when Short was sinbinned towards the end at a ruck, Mercier landed the winning penalty three minutes from time.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
It's the first Gloucester-Bristol derby at Kingsholm in over eight years this Saturday (kick off 4:30pm) and, previewing the game with the local media this week, Defence Coach Jonny Bell stressed that, with both teams in the bottom half of the table, they both need the points.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.