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Stephenson sends Leeds on way to New Year win

01 Jan 2011
Stephenson sends Leeds on way to New Year win

A second-half try from Michael Stephenson earned Leeds Carnegie their first win of a frustrating campaign and dented Gloucester’s ambitions of strengthening their claims for a top four place.

Leeds remain three points adrift of Newcastle at the foot of the table but this narrow 15-13 victory, at the 10th time of asking in Aviva Premiership Rugby, gives them renewed hope.

It was earned by Stephenson’s diving try short of the hour that finished off a move in which Leeds’ desperation to cross the line and retake the lead was there for all to see. They had to hang on – Ceiron Thomas missed a conversion and a penalty – for the much-needed victory.

Gloucester had edged ahead courtesy of penalties from Freddie Burns either side of half-time after James Simpson-Daniel had cancelled out an earlier try by Hendre Fourie. But the defeat means Gloucester, who were second best for much of the game, stay sixth.

The visitors, with England Under-20 fly-half Burns getting the nod ahead of regular No 10 Nicky Robinson, began the brighter with their young starlet orchestrating attacks. But a break down the left in the 12th minute from Thomas set up the game’s first try for England flanker Fourie.

Welshman Thomas linked up with Henry Fa’afili to set Lee Blackett scampering away and he would have scored were it not for a last-gasp challenge by Rory Lawson. Three thrusts later, however, and Fourie drove over, with Thomas adding the extras from the touchline.

An equally slick move down the right saw Gloucester open their account in the 24th minute as James Simpson-Daniel dived over in the corner under pressure from Thomas following good work to create the space by Mike Tindall, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Olly Morgan. Burns converted from wide out but within minutes Leeds nudged back ahead through a Thomas penalty.

That was cancelled out by a Burns penalty for a collapsed scrum shortly before the break and should have given the visitors their first lead of the game 10 minutes into the second half from another penalty, but he skewed it wide. Burns made amends on 54 minutes after Leeds were guilty of more scrum infringements as Gloucester appeared to take charge.

But Leeds showed their fighting spirit by launching a sustained multi-phase attack on the Gloucester line, a sequence that owed much to the quick ball generated by replacement scrum-half Scott Mathie and the determined running of Fourie and fly-half Lachlan MacKay. The man to finish it was winger Stephenson, the only downside being Thomas’s failure to land the conversion.

Gloucester threw on Robinson for Burns shortly before Thomas missed another attempt at goal, this time a penalty, that kept the Cherry and Whites within a score of retaking the lead.

Leeds almost got the breathing space they required when quick hands from Mathie fed Stephenson but he was stripped of possession 20 metres from the line. But they hung on for a deserved and much-needed victory.

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