By Ali Stokes
In a game that seemed to be heading out of reach in the second-half, Johan Ackermann's Gloucester side extend their unbeaten run to three matches, claiming a five-try, bonus point victory over West Country rivals Bristol Bears at Kingsholm last night (Friday).
The opening throws of the fixture suggested Gloucester were in for a evening face with an erratic opposition, with Bristol regularly playing with fire deep within their own half. However, Bristol's ambitious, quick passing game plan eventually amalgamated following.
Twice in the opening quarter of an hour, Gloucester conceded pressure relieving penalties within their opponents 22 after working hard to stress Irish international fly-half Ian Madigan and 20-year-old scrum-half Harry Randall.
After Madigan and Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees traded a penalty apiece in the first ten minutes, the former sent a deft grubber through for All Black blindside Steven Luatua to collect, who spent much of the game hugging the right touchline.
The bounce of the ball favoured Luatua, who made the most of his good luck to offload to Wallaby wing Luke Morahan for the visiting side's first and only try of the evening.
Bristol's potent attack heavily featured ball playing forwards, with the likes of Luatua, tighthead John Afoa and hooker Shuan Malton regularly seen in wider channels, flaunting quick handling skills to send wingers and centers into space.
A frustrating second 20-minute period for Gloucester provided no further scores in addition to Twelvetrees' early penalty, with their errors and Bristol's canny breakdown tactics preventing the Cherry and Whites from capitalising on any momentum they contrived to engender.
A clear trademark of George Smith's influence on the Bristol squad around the breakdown.
However, a second-half performance from both teams greatly different to their initial spell at Kingsholm this evening, with Bristol beginning to pay dearly for their indiscipline while Gloucester amassing the type of accurate game plan we have witnessed so far this season.
While star playmaker Danny Cipriani may have found himself picking the wrong passing option or his teammates fluffing their running lines in the first-half, their second attempt of the day profited significant yield.
An early short-range try for debutant lock Gerbrandt Grobler and yet another inch-perfect long pass from Cipriani to wing Charlie Sharples saw Gloucester swing from 3-13 down to 17-13 up within the first ten minutes of the second 40.
A scoreline aided by the yellow card handed to Smith, who tested the patience of referee Thomas Foley one too many times 60 seconds prior to Sharples' score.
Powerful work from Gloucester's forward unit, spearheaded by destructive flanker and eventual man of the match Jake Polledri, saw Sharples cross for his second try in a six minute period after a Gloucester maul magnetised Bristol's forwards, resulting in the isolation of Randall and dive to the corner for Sharples.
Following Sharples' second score, Bristol's game regressed to it's earlier self, resembling the first ten minutes of rash mayhem more than the following 30 minutes of sumptuous, free-flowing rugby.
Gloucester put boot to throat as Bristol began to crumble, with captain Ed Slater forcing his way past three Bristol defenders to touch down for his first score of the season, extending Gloucester's lead to 27-13.
By the time the final whistle had gone and Bristol's bench had entered the fray, Gloucester were too far in front to be caught. With the physical impact of centre Mark Atkinson and backrow Freddie Clarke for Gloucester, the Bears zealous fightback was subdued.
Summer arrival Matt Banahan sealed the victory with an 80th-minute score by his all too familiar left corner flag, receiving the swift cut out pass from substitute scrum-half Ben Vellacott for his second score in as many weeks.
Tries: Gerbrandt Grobler (41), Charlie Sharples (48, 54), Ed Slater (53), Matt Banahan (80)
Conversions: Billy Twelvetrees (42, 48)
Penalties: Billy Twelvetrees (8, 69)
Tries: Luke Morahan (16)
Conversions: Ian Madigan (18)
Penalties: Ian Madigan (10, 28)
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