Gloucester Rugby almost paid the price for a number of missed scoring chances on Friday evening, but hung on to defeat Exeter Chiefs by 24 points to 17 in a cracking Premiership Rugby encounter.
As the Gallagher Premiership resumed after a hiatus of several weeks, Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs served up a humdinger of an encounter at Kingsholm on Friday evening.
There was never more than a score in it throughout as the momentum ebbed and flowed. Either team could have nicked it, but it was the Cherry and Whites who held on at the death to secure four valuable points, end their recent losing streak and keep their top four ambitions alive.
But it really did go down to the wire. Having battled their way back from an early deficit, Gloucester Rugby took the game to the league leaders who were admittedly deprived of the services of a number of England players.
Creativity wasn’t an issue for the Cherry and Whites on the night, it was finishing off chances and it looked at times as though that would come back and haunt the home side. Several try scoring opportunities went begging as did a couple of kicks at goal.
As a result, leading 24-17 with just a couple of minutes left to play, Gloucester Rugby found themselves defending their own line against wave after wave of Exeter pressure. It’s a position that the Chiefs have exploited so efficiently over the past few seasons.
But the Cherry and Whites were in no mood to let this one slip having put in such a massive effort, and they crucially held firm under their own posts, forcing a knock on to bring the game to an end and send Kingsholm into raptures.
But, as the players and coaches who did media after the game were keen to stress, this will mean nothing if it’s not followed up with a similar performance at home to Saracens next Friday. The challenge has been set.
But, for now, Gloucester Rugby supporters will enjoy the win. Their team were magnificent on the night, backed by tremendous support and deserved the win.
The game began with a lengthy period of ‘aerial ping-pong’, both teams kicking tactically and seemingly unwilling to take an early risk. Gloucester Rugby had the first real foray into the opponent’s half, but a knock on halted the momentum.
But the Chiefs had the first chance of points and didn’t waste it. A five metre lineout was well defended by the home pack. However, when the Chiefs were told to use the ball, scrum-half Nic White caught the fringe defence napping and dummied his way over. Joe Simmonds converted.
But the Cherry and Whites hit straight back as the Chiefs turned over possession from the restart. A free kick was won at the scrum, Ben Morgan took a quick tap and Exeter were caught offside. Billy Twelvetrees slotted an easy penalty for 3-7 after 13 minutes.
The crowd was then lifted by a piece of Danny Cipriani magic, the fly-half attacking the blindside before linking well with Ben Morgan. Cipriani chipped ahead as he ran out of room and the ball frustratingly ran into touch.
The visitors were enjoying plenty of possession at this stage, as the game neared the 20 minute mark, and Exeter were moving the ball quite nicely across the pitch. But the Gloucester Rugby defence was making its tackles and standing up to the challenge.
The Cherry and Whites then seemed to have carved Exeter open, Tom Marshall making a fine break through the middle but Jason Woodward couldn’t quite hold on to the potentially scoring pass with the defence at sixes and sevens.
The South African duo of Ruan Ackermann and Franco Mostert then combined to take play dangerously into the Exeter 22. But, again, the ball was lost with the table-toppers scrambling to get back.
But the Cherry and Whites kept plugging away, and the try finally came. Danny Cipriani hoisted a high kick towards the left wing and Ollie Thorley rose magnificently to claim possession. He then offloaded to Woodward who hung on well to score. Twelvetrees converted superbly from the touchline for 10-07 after 27 minutes.
It had been a good spell for Gloucester Rugby, and they poured forward looking for another score. Willi Heinz came close as he dummied his way towards the line from a ruck and Franco Marais almost made the line a few minutes later.
But the Chiefs just held out, and Gloucester Rugby fans could be forgiven for wondering if they would live to regret those missed opportunities as half time came to bring an intriguing 40 minutes to a close.
The Cherry and Whites had certainly taken the game to the visitors, who had taken a bit of a pummelling in the second quarter of the game. However, they had crucially held out and were still very much in the game.
Indeed, they’d taken the one real chance that they’d created, whereas Gloucester Rugby would look back on several visits to the Exeter 22 where they didn’t come away with points.
The start to the second half was as cagey as the first half had been. There was plenty more box kicking and some very good defence from both sides. But it was the Chiefs who struck first, Simmonds levelling the scores with a 48th minute penalty.
But the Cherry and Whites retook the lead immediately as Exeter put a kick out on the full. The pack made good yardage from a driving maul, but it was skipper Willi Heinz who forced his way over from close range, Twelvetrees converting for 17-10.
The Cherry and Whites then so nearly extended the lead, a sparkling backs move creating space for Ollie Thorley, who looked to have wriggled his way to the line only to lose control as he looked to touch down. Another missed opportunity.
And Exeter made Gloucester rugby pay the price, Matt Kvesic steaming through in midfield after quick lineout ball off the top. The former Kingsholm favourite drew the final man and Tom O’Flaherty was over. Steenson converted to level the scores at 17-17 after 64 minutes.
The tension mounted and Billy Twelvetrees was narrowly off target with two tricky penalties as the Cherry and Whites piled on the pressure. But the crucial score finally came, albeit with a bit of luck.
An Owen Williams clearance kick was semi-charged down, playing his team-mates onside. Ollie Thorley scooped up the loose ball and set off. The support was good, the hands were secure and Ben Morgan crashed over. Twelvetrees showed admirable nerve to convert.
Just a couple of minutes left, but there was still drama to come. The Cherry and Whites received the restart safely but were then penalised for a neck roll.
The Chiefs kicked to the corner and proceeded to hammer away at the line. They’ve done it successfully so many times, but this time they came up short…..just!