Gloucester overcame the early loss of injured England centre Mike Tindall to end 2007 as comfortable GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP leaders after a 27-0 win over Bristol.
The Cherry and Whites made it eight wins from nine league starts, brushing aside a spirited – if limited – outfit.
A capacity Kingsholm crowd of 16,000 saw Gloucester storm clear through first-half tries from hooker Olivier Azam and replacement centre Leon Lloyd.
Ex-Leicester star Lloyd joined the action after just 13 minutes, taking over from Tindall, who appeared to suffer a calf muscle problem.
Tindall missed England’s World Cup campaign after failing to recover in time from a broken leg sustained on club duty last April, and his hopes of making the initial 30-man RBS 6 Nations squad have now suffered a setback.
England head coach Brian Ashton plans to name his squad on January 9, although Tindall’s primary target will be to recover in time for another west country derby against his former club Bath next Friday night.
Tindall’s absence though, had little effect on a Gloucester side who claimed a bonus point success in relatively routine fashion to move well clear of closest challengers Bath.
Leading 15-0 at the break, Gloucester confirmed their five-point maximum with some 16 minutes still remaining.
Wing James Simpson-Daniel collected Ryan Lamb’s pass to mark his 100th Premiership appearance by scorching over from 50 metres, then Lloyd’s second try ended any hopes of a Bristol fightback.
Gloucester, unbeaten at home this season, were without injured trio Iain Balshaw, Gareth Cooper and Gareth Delve.
But their enviable squad strength meant they could still go into battle with former Australian Test hooker Jeremy Paul and Scotland star Chris Paterson on the bench.
Bristol, meanwhile, rested England World Cup hooker Mark Regan to replacement duty, but fly-half Jason Strange missed out because of a rib injury sustained during last weekend’s 23-23 draw against Wasps, so Hill took over.
Lamb’s fourth-minute penalty edged Gloucester ahead, but his goalkicking proved a pale shadow of an outstanding performance against Heineken Cup opponents Bourgoin two weeks earlier.
On that occasion, Lamb landed a perfect nine from nine return, but he missed three kicks in succession before adding the extras to Lloyd’s touchdown.
Lamb created the score, kicking accurately over advancing Bristol defenders to find Lloyd unmarked.
For much of the opening period though, Gloucester huffed and puffed with little reward.
They were also tested defensively as Bristol regularly unleashed powerful runners Andrew Blowers and Alife To’oala, but when it came to creativity, the mid-table visitors finished a poor second.
Bristol spent most of the second half in defensive mode, lacking sufficient possession to make any attacking headway.
And their afternoon reached a frustrating finale when skipper Matt Salter was sin-binned by referee Dave Pearson after lunging at Azam.
Gloucester also went down to 14 men when skipper Marco Bortolami was yellow-carded following a lineout infringement, which inspired Bristol to search for a consolation try.
But in keeping with their frustrating Kingsholm experience, the opportunity went begging, meaning Gloucester kept their defence intact.
Gloucester now head for Bath, with the only noticeable area for concern being Lamb’s alarming inaccuracy.
He botched five shots at goal in total, and Gloucester might not escape unscathed if he produces a repeat show on the banks of the River Avon in six days’ time.