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Gloucester edge out Bath Gloucester edge out Bath

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Gloucester edge out Bath

Gloucester finished top of the Guinness Premiership after subduing Bath at Kingsholm – but there were major injury concerns for watching England boss Martin Johnson.

Gloucester centre Mike Tindall, Bath prop Matt Stevens and his front-row colleague Lee Mears all failed to last the distance of a punishing encounter.

Johnson and Rob Andrew are due to announce a 32-man squad for next month’s New Zealand tour on Tuesday.

And they will be anxious for early fitness updates on a trio expected to start against the All Blacks in Auckland on June 7.

Despite Tindall’s early departure, Gloucester kept their shape and discipline to book a home semi-final against reigning champions Leicester tomorrow week.

Wing James Simpson-Daniel’s 34th-minute try shaded an intense encounter, preserving Gloucester’s place at the Premiership summit and consigning Bath to third spot.

Bath now face a daunting semi-final away to Wasps after a losing bonus point was not enough to preserve second spot.

Gloucester-bound Olly Barkley booted two penalties for the visitors, but a scoreless second period reflected how two committed sides cancelled each other out.

England wing Lesley Vainikolo returned for Gloucester after recovering from a hamstring strain. His Test colleague Iain Balshaw moved to full-back instead of Olly Morgan, with number eight Gareth Delve handed a start against his former club.

Wing Andrew Higgins, centre Tom Cheeseman and prop David Flatman represented a trio of Bath changes following their 66-21 drubbing of Saracens last Saturday, while Barkley lined up against the team he will join next season.

And both sides showcased their attacking instincts during a lively opening quarter.

Balshaw’s pace stretched the Bath defence before his inside pass almost sent Tindall clear, then wing Matt Banahan sprinted clear and was hauled down by a superb last-ditch Balshaw tackle.

Tindall though, a leading contender to captain England in New Zealand, limped off in the 17th minute and was replaced by Willie Walker, before Lamb rifled over a 35-metre penalty to edge Gloucester ahead.

Territorially, Bath were in complete control, but they encountered a Gloucester defence ferociously committed to knocking them back in the tackle.

Bath looked to have finally broken through in the 25th minute when Stevens rampaged clear, but a stunning Simpson-Daniel tackle denied him five metres from the line.

Stevens was forced off injured as a result of Simpson-Daniel’s defensive brilliance, and although Barkley quickly struck an equalising penalty, Gloucester moved ahead before the break.

Slick handling left Bath short of defensive numbers, and Simpson-Daniel did not require a second invitation to cut back inside for a clever try.

Lamb could not convert, and despite Barkley landing a second penalty to cut the deficit, Gloucester trooped off two points ahead after a high-octane half played in stamina-sapping conditions.

There was not let-up in terms of intensity or commitment after the break, yet scoring opportunities were at a premium.

Gloucester thought they had done enough to seal the deal when Vainikolo stormed clear in space to send substitute Luke Narraway over, but referee Dave Pearson ruled a forward pass during the build-up.

Bath threw everything at their opponents during the frenzied closing stages, but they lacked a cutting edge and Gloucester comfortably held them out.

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