Gloucester’s joy at a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP opening round over local rivals Bath was dampened by an injury to new signing Iain Balshaw, who limped off at half time with his ankle heavily strapped.
Gloucester though, made light of his absence – replacement Jack Adams scored a try just three minutes after taking over from the 27-year-old – and New Zealand fly-half Willie Walker kicked 14 points before full-back Olly Morgan’s slick touchdown finished Bath off.
Bath had two players sin-binned in quick succession just before the break, and their front-row endured a punishing afternoon at the hands of Gloucester’s French scrum destroyer Christian Califano.
England lock Danny Grewcock scored both of Bath’s tries – the latter a 20-metre dash to the line -while Olly Barkley booted three penalties, but they were beaten by opponents generally quicker in thought and deed.While Balshaw’s latest injury will be a concern to England head coach Andy Robinson, there was some bright early-season news through the commanding displays of Bath lineout giants Grewcock and Steve Borthwick.
Gloucester, who went into the season opener without injured quartet James Simpson-Daniel, Ryan Lamb, Carlos Nieto and Jake Boer, suffered a late blow when England centre Mike Tindall missed the clash against his former club. Tindall was sidelined by a calf muscle injury, so Rudi Keil partnered England Under-21 star Anthony Allen in midfield, while Italian Test captain Marco Bortolami led Gloucester on his Premiership debut.
Bath, under the direction of acting head coach Steve Meehan, welcomed back Australian fly-half Shaun Berne for his second spell at the club, meaning Barkley started the campaign at inside centre. Barkley opened Bath’s account through a third-minute penalty after Gloucester infringed in the game’s first lineout. Barkley easily found the target from 40 metres despite a fierce wind blowing straight into his face, and it took Gloucester time to settle, despite Walker’s equalising penalty strike.
Both teams engaged in bouts of aimless kicking, and although there was plenty of endeavour on show, the finishing ability fellow below Premiership standards.
Former Otago Highlander Walker edged Gloucester ahead through a second penalty, but Bath lost their way during a costly 10 minutes before half-time as referee Sean Davey’s patience snapped. Borthwick was yellow-carded following a shoulder-led charge on Walker, who dusted himself down to slot the resulting penalty, then Bath saw full-back Michael Stephenson sin-binned for not releasing possession.
Bath ended the half reduced to 13 men as Walker landed a fourth successful penalty, and despite Barkley briefly narrowing the deficit, Gloucester were good value for their 12-6 interval lead after a tryless, defence-dominated encounter. Balshaw did not reappear for the second period, while Bath’s French international wing David Bory also departed early, with Joe Maddock taking over.
Adams immediately made a telling impression, rounding off a crisp move by taking number eight James Forrester’s pass, but the try had its origins in some superb work on the ground from Gloucester flanker Andy Hazell. Walker converted with Bath still down to 14 men, and the visitors’ woes were underlined when Barkley missed a straightforward penalty chance.
Grewcock’s close-range score briefly gave Bath hope of launching a fightback, yet Gloucester responded brilliantly through a mesmeric attack that stretched the visiting defence in all directions before Morgan pounced.
The score illustrated why Gloucester could feature prominently at the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP’S business end this term, confirming moves to a more expansive game-plan that should see them prosper against more talented opponents than Bath. Grewcock’s second touchdown and a late Barkley penalty guided Bath towards a losing bonus point, but Gloucester were already home and dry as the heavens opened.