Gloucester Rugby will come away from Welford Road ruing the small errors and twists of fortune that cost them dear, in a 34-16 Gallagher Premiership defeat at Leicester Tigers in a game that they contributed so much to.
It was a game when the team will wonder what might have been. Time and again, they created good openings and worked their way into the Tigers 22. However, the precision when in scoring range wasn’t quite there and that was the difference on the scoreboard.
Also consider that two of the home team’s tries in the second halves came from Gloucester Rugby errors as they attacked to try and get back into the game. The Cherry and Whites carried on playing their game right until the very end, they couldn’t be faulted on that score.
Certainly, compared to last weekend against Sale, there was a real intensity to Gloucester Rugby’s play and there were some final individual performances. Tom Hudson probably had his best game in a Gloucester Rugby shirt, Gareth Evans was excellent in the back row and the second row pairing of Gerbrandt Grobler and Franco Mostert were tireless in their efforts.
However, Leicester pounced ruthlessly on some key mistakes and turnovers and probably benefitted from the rub of the green on the day. It’s the sign of a good sign and the Tigers seem to be resurgent after a tricky start to the season.
But Gloucester Rugby can at least reflect at having fired some shots on the day. They really tested the home side and, with some more composure and a little more luck, this one could have been a lot closer.
The Gallagher Premiership now takes a back seat for a few weeks and the Cherry and Whites now face a short turnaround before entertaining Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup at Kingsholm on Friday evening.
It's a tough schedule, but the squad showed today that there is real fight and self-belief amongst them and they will be giving it everything to get back to winning ways, especially as injury absentees start to return.
The home side made an early breakthrough on the day as a midfield bust by Graham Kitchener took play into the Gloucester Rugby 22. The ball was slowed up illegally at the ruck, and George Ford made it 3-0 after three minutes with the simple penalty.
The Cherry and Whites responded with some impressive and patient ball handling, forwards and backs combining well, but Freddie Clarke was bundled into touch as play moved into the home 22.
A couple of penalty awards then allowed George Ford to drive play deep into the Gloucester Rugby 22. The defence held up well initially, but swift recycling saw the ball transferred to the right where Jonny May had an easy run in against his former club. Ford converted from the touchline for 10-0 after 13 minutes.
It was all Tigers at this stage, and Gloucester Rugby were struggling to live with the pace. Another penalty conceded allowed Ford to kick to the corner again, but a timely lineout steal saved the day.
The home side did seem to be benefitting from some friendly calls, a possible knock-on by Olowofela wasn’t picked up, nor was what looked to be a forward pass to the same player. Every Gloucester Rugby misdemeanour was being exploited though and a 20th minute penalty from Ford extended the lead to 13-0.
The Cherry and Whites did get a decision from the restart though, good work from the forwards at the ruck rewarded by a penalty, and Billy Twelvetrees coolly slotted his team’s first points of the afternoon.
Gloucester Rugby were now starting to work their way into the game and enjoy some decent possession, Gerbrandt Grobler making one good break downfield. But the Tigers were very adept at slowing the ball down at the breakdown at the key moment and were being allowed to get away with it.
However, Johan Ackermann’s side kept plugging away, the two second rows and Freddie Clarke showing up well with ball in hand. They came close, Leicester having to resolutely defend their own line, but a second penalty from Twelvetrees was the only reward.
Half time came with no further addition to the scoreline, but Gloucester Rugby could feel encouraged by the final few minutes of the half which had seen them work their way into the game and play some decent rugby.
There was enough in those final few minutes to offer encouragement and show that there were gaps to be found if possession could be maintained and the Cherry and Whites could also adapt to Wayne Barnes’ interpretation of the laws.
But it was the Tigers who struck first, and it was a typically patient Leicester build-up, probing for an opening until a neat inside pass from Matt Toomua found Jonah Holmes who ghosted home untouched. Ford converted for 20-6.
The response was almost immediate as the pack once again won good ball at the ruck area. Ben Morgan carried well and there was a hint of some space for Charlie Sharples on the right wing, only for Jordan Olowofela to get back and make the tackle just a few metres short.
There was still plenty of fight and ambition about the Cherry and Whites, but it cost them dear on 53 minutes. A pass went astray on midfield and the Tigers pounced, exploiting the turnover and working an opening for May to sprint home for his second try. Ford added the extras for 27-6.
But Gareth Evans immediately offered some hope, picking off a loose Leicester pass and showing great strength and pace to fight his way over from 30 metres out. Twelvetrees added the easy conversion.
The game had well and truly opened up now, and Gloucester Rugby were playing some really good stuff. Leicester were also still looking for the bonus point and it was making for some entertaining rugby.
But the next chance of points came from the kicking tee, Leicester penalised for not releasing in the tackle and Billy Twelvetrees narrowed the gap to 27-16 with a 62nd minute penalty.
Freddie Clarke burst clear from the restart and Franco Mostert supported well, but with Gloucester Rugby pouring forward, Jonny May intercepted. He was tracked down and seemed to knock on, but play continued and George Ford wriggled through to score and convert his own try.
The Cherry and Whites were still prepared to give it a go as time ebbed away, but they were mostly restricted to playing from deep and a promising break from Henry Trinder was called back for a forward pass.
Jordan Olowofela came close to score in the final stages, losing control as he tried to ground the ball in the corner but that was it for the scoring as an entertaining encounter came to an end.