Gloucester Rugby took a good half hour to get going at Kingsholm on Saturday afternoon, but crucially scored two tries before half time and subsequently battled their way to a 27-14 Gallagher Premiership win over Wasps.
It was a test of character against a team whose league position doesn’t do justice to the talent in their ranks, and it was a test that the Cherry and Whites just about passed.
The game was still well and truly in the balance with just over ten minutes left to play, Gloucester Rugby down to 14 players with Franco Mostert in the sin bin and clinging on to a three point lead.
However, a key set of scrums on halfway, the first two of which without Mostert’s presence, went the way of the Cherry and Whites and a subsequent penalty to the home team allowed Billy Twelvetrees to ease the pressure as he opened up a 20-14 lead.
And Gloucester Rugby finished strongly to deny Wasps even a losing bonus point, Val Rapava Ruskin carrying powerfully before Jake Polledri muscled his way over in the corner to delight the Kingsholm crowd.
Such an outcome had seemed unlikely given the disjointed first 30 minutes. If it could go wrong, it did go wrong in that period. Handling errors and indiscipline, so absent in the recent win at Quins, prevented any real momentum being created.
And Wasps had to do nothing else rather than take advantage of the mistakes by the home team. They opened up an 0-11 lead and it was difficult to see how Gloucester Rugby would shake off the rustiness.
But two tries before half time changed the course of the game, and the Cherry and Whites didn’t look back. The second half was frustrating in that chances were created but not finished, but Gloucester Rugby dug deep when it mattered and closed out the win.
The four points takes the Cherry and Whites up to third place in the table, and the push for an end of season play-off spot is still very much on.
It was a cagey opening few minutes as both teams worked their way into the game. The Cherry and Whites thought they had an interception from Jason Woodward, but advantage was being played and Rob Miller stroked over a 6thminute penalty to give the visitors a 0-3 lead.
The Cherry and Whites looked to hit back immediately, Morgan and Atkinson carrying powerfully into the Wasps 22 before a floated kick from Danny Cipriani just eluded Ollie Thorley and bounced into touch a few metres out.
The visitors then received the benefit of a couple of 50-50 calls, and took full advantage, some powerful ball carrying taking them to within inches of the Gloucester Rugby line before play was quickly switched right for Marcus Watson to squeeze in at the corner. Miller’s conversion was off target but the visitors were up 0-8 after 16 minutes.
The Cherry and Whites were struggling to get into the game, and a missed lineout then led to another penalty opportunity for Miller and the Wasps fly-half made no mistake as he gave his team an 0-11 lead.
It had been a very subdued opening from Gloucester Rugby, and there was a further blow on 24 minutes as Jason Woodward limped off to be replaced by Charlie Sharples who promptly lifted the crowd with a weaving run.
But the Cherry and Whites couldn’t press home their advantage, and this continued to be the case as the half hour mark passed and they remained on the wrong end of the marginal refereeing decisions.
But, at last, on 33 minutes, the Cherry and Whites pounced. The passes stuck and Tom Marshall made the incisive break. He found Willi Heinz up in support and the skipper shrugged off the last man to score. Twelvetrees added the conversion and Kingsholm had something to shout about.
Even more so straight for the restart. Gloucester Rugby attacked the left channel and Ollie Thorley took over, weaving his way infield and turning on the afterburners. The scramble defence just got back to haul him down inches short, but Ruan Ackermann powered over for the second try. Twelvetrees converted again for 14-11.
That was it for the first half and, after such a lacklustre opening half hour, it had been quite some turnaround. Gloucester Rugby had suddenly rediscovered their mojo, and Kingsholm was buzzing.
Momentum is a strange thing in sport, and the Cherry and Whites had wrestled it back from the visitors who had not really had to work too hard for their points, largely taking advantage of errors from the home side.
The first score of the second half would be crucial. Could Gloucester Rugby press home their advantage?
A rampaging run from Ed Slater from the restart got the Cherry and Whites moving forward, Mark Atkinson testing the Wasps defence with a cunning grubber kick behind the defensive line.
However, the only early reward for Gloucester Rugby was a 46thminute penalty from Twelvetrees when the Wasps defence was caught offside.
The visitors then served a timely warning of the danger they could pose as Gaby Lovobalavu broke through in midfield, only for his team-mates to waste the opportunity with a loose pass.
The game started to open up, and the Cherry and Whites were guilty of not taking full advantage of a couple of good incursions into the Wasps 22. But the visitors were still very much in the game.
Gloucester Rugby were pushing hard for the crucial score to extend the lead, but were dealt a blow of 61 minutes when Franco Mostert was yellow carded for leading with the shoulder as he entered a ruck.
Miller rubbed salt into the wound as he slotted a penalty to get Wasps back to within three points, but Elliot Daly was off target with a long-range effort that would have levelled the scores.
The Cherry and Whites then won a key scrum penalty to ease the pressure. They moved into the Wasps 22, forced Wasps to concede another penalty and Twelvetrees duly extended the lead to 20-14 after 75 minutes.
It was a crucial kick and helped to ease the tension a bit, but not that much! However, Gloucester Rugby finished well to put the game to bed.
Val Rapava Ruskin had scrummaged his heart out a few minutes earlier but, on this occasion, he drove into the heart of the Wasps defence with a couple of defenders hanging off him. The ball was swiftly transferred to Jake Polledri and the returning flanker went over in the corner.
There was no time left on the clock as Billy Twelvetrees slotted the touchline conversion, and the Kingsholm faithful were able to celebrate an important win.