Gloucester improve survival hopes
Published 29/12/2013 | 16:37
Gloucester moved away from the Aviva Premiership relegation zone with a deserved win over London Irish in a poor game at the Madejski Stadium.
The game only came alive in the last 10 minutes when the home side staged a late rally - but they left themselves with too much to do and Gloucester just hung on.
Despite being outscored by three tries to one, 14 points from the boot of Billy Twelvetrees, three more from Freddie Burns and a solitary try from Jonny May was enough to win the battle between two sides badly lacking in confidence.
Gloucester had the better of the game in terms of territory and possession and should have won by a greater margin. Their pack dominated for much of the contest with Ben Morgan producing a much improved performance, which allowed Twelvetrees to control matters with some skilful kicking.
Irish were gifted an early try for Fergus Mulchrone but despite another two from Eamonn Sheridan in the second half, they were disappointing and could still face a relegation battle, despite leading bottom club Worcester - who they face on Saturday - by 10 points.
The hosts toiled. Without Chris Hala'ufia, their forwards lacked any bite, they made plenty of unforced errors and Ian Humphreys missed two kickable penalties at vital stages.
Irish had intended to give a debut to South African international prop CJ Van Der Linde - but he aggravated a previous calf injury in the warm-up, which meant a call-up for Leo Halavatau.
Ofisa Treviranus replaced the suspended Hala'ufia in the back row for the hosts, while Gloucester made one change from last week's home win over Worcester with Huia Edmonds replacing the injured Darren Dawidiuk at hooker. Burns remained on the bench with Twelvetrees playing at fly-half.
The visitors made a disastrous start and were behind within a minute when Mulchrone easily evaded a hesitant Gloucester defence to cross for a try which Humphreys converted.
After this reverse, Gloucester had the better of an error-ridden opening period and were rewarded by two penalties from Twelvetees.
Humphreys missed a chance for the hosts but they were 7-6 ahead at the end of the first quarter.
Edmonds enlivened proceedings by bursting away from a line-out on halfway and kicking ahead, only to be foiled by some desperate cover defence from the hosts.
Gloucester were not to be denied for long, scoring their opening try after 25 minutes. Irish attempted to run the ball out of their own 22 but James O'Connor was robbed of possession 40 metres out, Mike Tindall seized on the loose ball and sent May away on an unopposed run to the line for the try.
Twelvetrees converted before kicking his third penalty for a 16-7 interval lead, before Humphreys' bid to reduce the arrears failed when he missed an easy penalty.
Humphreys was replaced by Shane Geraghty but the attempt to revive Irish fortunes did not immediately pay off as Twelvetrees extended the visitors' lead with another penalty.
However, the hosts showed more fight and were rewarded when Sheridan forced his way over in the corner to trim the deficit to seven points.
With 20 minutes remaining, Gloucester replaced Tindall with Freddie Burns, who kicked a penalty.
Despite this setback, Irish were having their best period of the match and hopes of a comeback were raised when Sheridan crashed over for his second try with nine minutes to go.
Geraghty converted but his penalty miss with three minutes to go proved crucial.