Gloucester carved out a bonus point victory over relegation favourites Bristol to keep themselves firmly in GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP play-off contention.
England internationals Olly Morgan and Mike Tindall scored tries in each half to put Gloucester in charge. And Tindall’s second touchdown secured a five-point maximum after Gloucester wing Lesley Vainikolo also breached Bristol’s defence.
Bristol, despite a late David Lemi try, will end 2008 propping up the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP table.
The home side had their moments, giving Gloucester plenty to ponder in the forward exchanges, but they offered little attacking threat out wide, confirming a bleak mid-winter for Richard Hill’s men.
Bristol’s February 13 showdown with Newcastle already has "relegation decider" written all over it, and on today’s evidence, they could struggle to stay afloat.
Gloucester hardly hit top form, yet they outscored their hosts 4-1 on tries, with fly-half Ryan Lamb slotting a penalty and two conversions, while centre Olly Barkley also kicked a conversion.
Centre Ed Barnes booted a penalty for Bristol, with substitute Adrian Jarvis converting Lemi’s opportunist effort, but they could have few complaints about the final outcome.
Gloucester, bristling from a 42-12 drubbing against London Irish last time out, suffered a late injury blow when England international Iain Balshaw withdrew because of groin trouble.
Balshaw was replaced on the right-wing by Matthew Watkins, while Bristol showed two changes – both up front – following a 20-20 draw at Worcester, as prop Darren Crompton and hooker Scott Linklater both started.
Gloucester took just four minutes to shake off any hangover from the Irish game, with Morgan weaving his way through five Bristol defenders on a 30-metre run for an outstanding individual try.
Barkley added the conversion, but they should have extended their lead inside the opening quarter as Bristol struggled to string together any notable passages of play.
Barnes cut the deficit through a 23rd-minute penalty before Lamb restored Gloucester’s seven-point advantage after he took over kicking duties from Barkley.
Rival hookers Scott Linklater and Olivier Azam were fortunate to avoid yellow cards following a dust-up that lasted long after referee David Rose blew his whistle.
But the official’s patience snapped a minute before the break when he sin-binned Bristol skipper Shaun Perry for deliberate offside.
Gloucester though, trooped off just 10-3 ahead, hoping they would not be left to rue three missed penalties by Lamb (twice) and Barkley.
Mark Regan’s arrival as a half-time substitute raised the temperature on a freezing afternoon.
The 2003 England World Cup winner immediately got involved in a skirmish with opposite number Azam, but Regan’s introduction also had a galvanising effect on his team.
There was more urgency and direction about the Bristol forwards, while Perry then rejoined the action with Gloucester having failed to capitalise on his absence.
The game had developed into a war of attrition – exactly what Bristol wanted – as Gloucester struggled to build on their early lead.
An occasional raking Barkley touchfinder gave them momentum, yet attacking opportunities proved few and far between as Bristol controlled the tempo and remained firmly in contention.
Gloucester though, switched up a gear during the closing quarter, making the game safe when Tindall burst through a huge gap to touch down unopposed.
Lamb added the extras, but worse was to come for Bristol as Vainikolo rounded off a sweeping move.
Lemi bagged a consolation try entering injury-time, yet Gloucester were not to be denied a bonus point as Tindall powered over to complete the game’s final passage of play, with Lamb again converting.