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Command performance puts Cherry and Whites into top four

18 Feb 2011
Command performance puts Cherry and Whites into top four

Gloucester moved up to third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table after their forwards pummelled London Irish into submission in the 23-9 victory at Kingsholm.

A seventh successive win in all competitions – and 15th home league victory on the bounce – was never under threat once skipper Luke Narraway crossed for an early try. Fly-half Nicky Robinson chipped in with 13 points, while flanker Akapusi Qera added a second-half touchdown as Irish registered two Chris Malone penalties and a Tom Homer strike.

Gloucester, unbeaten since New Year’s Day, are now just two points behind second-placed Saracens and hold a game in hand on both the Hertfordshire club and leaders Leicester. But while Irish slumped to a seventh Aviva Premiership Rugby defeat from their last eight games, such is the congested scramble for play-off places they are just three points adrift of the top four.

The big concern for Irish though, was the ruthless way Gloucester dismantled them up front as Narraway, Qera, lock Jim Hamilton and prop Nick Wood all played starring roles. And Gloucester’s defence also proved watertight – another key facet of their performance that will have delighted head coach Bryan Redpath.

With a home LV= Cup semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons looking next month, Gloucester are firmly in the hunt for silverware on two fronts, but Irish only have the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs to concentrate on.

Scotland scrum-half Rory Lawson returned from Six Nations duty for Gloucester, although the home side were without injured wing James Simpson-Daniel, so Charlie Sharples deputised. Irish, seeking a first away win since October, lost their main attacking weapon Sailosi Tagicakibau to an arm injury, while prop Alex Corbisiero – fresh from an outstanding England debut against Italy last weekend – was among the replacements.

Robinson and Malone exchanged penalties during a tepid opening, but Gloucester’s pack then created a spell of territorial dominance that tested the Irish defence.

Exiles skipper Seilala Mapusua put one of his trademark bone-crunching tackles on opposite number Elitoa Fuimaono-Sapolu, yet Gloucester retained control of the close-quarter exchanges and they soon converted that supremacy into points.

Robinson slotted another penalty before the Gloucester forwards rumbled towards Irish’s line and Narraway claimed a touchdown that Robinson converted. And there was no end to the misery for Irish, who then had prop Clarke Dermody sin-binned for not rolling away at a ruck, handing Robinson another penalty chance that he gratefully accepted.

The visitors could do little about a prolonged backs-to-the-wall exercise, and even when Gloucester saw flanker Andy Hazell go off, his replacement Qera ensured momentum was maintained.

Homer landed a long-range penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Irish still had a mountain to climb, trailing 16-6 and showing no obvious sign of stopping Gloucester’s dominance. Malone’s second successful penalty briefly cut the deficit, only for Gloucester to move up a gear and sting Irish through a superbly-executed try.

Hooker Scott Lawson made the telling pass of a flowing move, helping create space that freed full-back Olly Morgan before supporting substitute Qera finished off. Robinson added the extras, leaving Gloucester with almost 30 minutes to push for two further tries and secure a five-point maximum.

Corbisiero appeared midway through the third quarter as Irish boss Toby Booth began ringing the changes in an effort to stall Gloucester’s rhythm, but his replacements could make little difference. Even on the rare occasions that Irish put together a meaningful attack, progress was hampered by handling errors or wayward passing, and Gloucester continued to boss the contest.

Gloucester finished the match reduced to 14 men following a yellow card for substitute scrum-half Dave Lewis, but their work was done and another Aviva Premiership Rugby win comfortably secured.

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