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Gloucester end miserable run and temporarily halt Exeter's play-off charge

Published 15/04/2016

Greig Laidlaw booted three penalties and a conversion for Gloucester
Greig Laidlaw booted three penalties and a conversion for Gloucester

Gloucester ended a run of four successive Aviva Premiership defeats to rock west country rivals Exeter and prevent them from early confirmation of a place in this season's title play-offs.

England Under-20 international Ollie Thorley - a late inclusion in the Gloucester side - scored the game's solitary try as his team prevailed 16-9, while Scotland international scrum-half Greig Laidlaw kicked three penalties and a conversion.

Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked three penalties for the Chiefs, who also saw their England wing Jack Nowell sin- binned for a dangerous tip tackle.

Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys consulted the television match official before reaching for a yellow card, when many in a crowd of just over 13,000 at Kingsholm expected red. Whether the match citing commissioner now gets involved, remains to be seen.

Victory for Exeter would have been enough to guarantee play-off rugby next month, and while they should still comfortably secure a top four finish, their first opportunity of achieving that disappeared.

Gloucester, beaten during the past five weeks by Premiership opponents Worcester, London Irish, Bath and Leicester, were transformed from the team stunned at home last weekend by European Challenge Cup quarter-final opponents Newport Gwent Dragons.

And the result means Gloucester still have a distant chance of claiming a top-six Premiership finish, which would clinch a utomatic Champions Cup qualification next term.

Gloucester handed a start to Thorley after centre Mark Atkinson failed a fitness test, which meant Henry Trinder moving into midfield alongside Billy Twelvetrees, while prop Yann Thomas, lock Jeremy Thrush and flanker Ross Moriarty all received call-ups.

Exeter, meanwhile, fielded 14 of the starting XV on duty against Champions Cup conquerors Wasps six days ago, with Scotland international prop Moray Low missing out due to a knee injury and being replaced by Harry Williams.

Persistent pre-match drizzle made for tricky conditions, and the opening 15 minutes unsurprisingly saw both packs battle for supremacy, with territory and accurate tactical kicking proving key requirements.

Exeter opted to kick for touch with an 11th-minute penalty, rather than Steenson targeting the posts, but Gloucester defended strongly and then launched a spell of concerted pressure that almost let in wing Rob Cook going over for a try, yet Chiefs' defence held firm.

Exeter also had their moments in attack, but they were guilty of spilling possession under pressure, and clear-cut scoring chances proved at a premium.

Gloucester fly-half James Hook mixed his kicking game well, yet neither side could find a telling final pass or produce a flash of individual flair, and the opening half finished scoreless.

It was the first time since Leeds and Sale cancelled each other out in October 2010 that a Premiership game had ended 0-0 at half-time.

But the deadlock was broken just two minutes after the break when Steenson kicked a 40-metre penalty, only for Gloucester to respond from their next attack as Thorley cut back inside to claim a well-worked try that Laidlaw converted.

A second Steenson penalty cut the gap to a point, but Gloucester thought they had scored again when Trinder intercepted a midfield pass and sprinted clear, only for referee Maxwell-Keys to call play back, having awarded Exeter a penalty.

Laidlaw then extended Gloucester's advantage through a penalty from near the touchline, then Steenson completed his penalty hat-trick and ensured the teams were separated by one point moving into the final quarter.

But two Laidlaw penalties in quick succession - the first after Nowell had left the action - gave Gloucester breathing space to halt their losing run and leave Exeter having to content themselves with a losing bonus point.

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