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Gloucester Rugby: Late Leicester penalty sinks Gloucester

By The Citizen  |  Posted: February 20, 2014

Charlie Sharples celebrates after scoring against Leicester

GLOUCESTER’S seven-year wait for a win at Welford Road continued as Leicester Tigers flexed their forward muscle to snatch the four points at the death.

The Cherry and Whites have not won at the East Midlands ground since 2007 but appeared on course for victory after Charlie Sharples finished a sensational try early in the second-half.

But the same set-piece problems that have blighted Nigel Davies' side all season reared their head once again, while the referee, ironically by the name of Dean Richards, did the visitors no favours as Leicester fought back.

Mathew Tait scythed through for the leveller before Leicester turned the screw at the scrum to earn a controversial match-winning penalty, which Toby Flood made no mistake in converting.

The result, following London Irish’s victory over London Wasps, sees Gloucester drop to 10th in the Aviva Premiership table but they could take plenty of pride from the performance.

While the scrum more than creaked on several occasions the rest of Gloucester's game was solid. They rediscovered the intensity and passion that was missing against Sale Sharks and will be counting down the days until they return to action against Harlequins at Kingsholm on Saturday.

Nigel Davies made five changes to the side that were savaged by Sale Sharks last Friday with Freddie Burns dropped to the bench.

There's little doubt that the fly-half's impending move to Leicester Tigers came into Gloucester's consideration and Ryan Mills, who will also quit Kingsholm in the summer, was handed the number 10 jersey.

He formed a new half-back pairing with Dan Robson, while Mike Tindall came into the centre to captain the team.

In the pack, Davies turned to power with Will James providing extra bulk in the second-row and Ben Morgan returning from England duty to join Sione Kalamafoni and Matt Kvesic in the back row.

Traditionally, mid-Six Nations would be the ideal time to face the 10-time English champions and they were without Geoff Parling, Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi due to injury, but their entire current England contingent, with the exception of Dan Cole, returned for the clash.

Richard Cockerill's men edged to a slender one-point victory over winless Worcester Warriors last week but they have a formidable home record against Gloucester.

Gloucester made a promising start, with Trinder collecting Mills' kick-off but the visitors were continually knocked back in the tackle by the Tigers, who eventually earned a penalty at the breakdown.

But Gloucester caused Leicester problems in the wide channels and some slick hands from Trinder released Cook down the right. He failed to find Sharples but possession was maintained and spread right for Kalamafoni to cross but Martyn Thomas' flick was clearly forward.

Leicester won a penalty from the ensuing scrum to clear their lines and Flood was quickly given a simple shot at goal, which he fired wide.

The Cherry and Whites once again came agonisingly close to grabbing the opening try as they stormed back. Martyn Thomas surged down the left and stepped inside Vereniki Goneva before looping a pass inside. It missed onrushing Sharples and fell to Kvesic but the England flanker was unable to pick it from his bootlaces with the try-line at his mercy.

The hosts were equally ambitious with the ball in hand but the decsion-making of Toby Flood was sometimes questionable. A sweeping move built on the back of a Tom Youngs rampage had Gloucester on the ropes but Davies' men were more than a match as they held out with some desperate defence.

Yet again discipline and the scrum were Gloucester's Achilles heel and the latter gave the Tigers the opportunity to kick for goal. And after 32 minutes of stalemate Flood booted the scoreboard into life.

Moments later Gloucester had the opportunity to draw level but Rob Cook's effort fell well short. But he made amends on 37 minutes to bring the scorers to 3-3 with the interval approaching.

Gloucester took the lead in emphatic fashion on 53 minutes with a superb demonstration of attacking rugby.

Mills fired a long pass to Trinder and the 24-year-old expertly ghosted outside the Leicester defence before feeding Thomas. The Welshman then drew the defence and quickly flicked the ball back inside for Sharples to dash over.

Cook slipped while attempting to convert and the ball sailed agonisingly wide but Gloucester continued to attack at will with Kalamafoni leading the charge with some barnstorming carries.

Leicester threatened to hit back, none more so than when Flood dinked a penalty into the corner but Gloucester stood up to the challenge with Kvesic earning a penalty with a textbook jackal.

But Leicester's onslaught was relentless and they earned the try they craved after going to the corner for a second occasion.

After bludgeoning the Gloucester defence with a trio of giant ball-carriers in Logovi'I, Vereniki Goneva and Thomas Waldrom the ball was spread back to the left and Flood put Mathew Tait through a midfield gap.

Flood missed the conversion but the try had tied the scores and the former England fly-half, who will move to the Top 14 in the summer, quickly made amends in controversial circumstances.

With a scrum on their own 22, Gloucester conceded a free-kick for a crooked feed despite replays clearly showing Dan Robson had put the ball in straight.

Leicester elected for a scrum of their own, and referee Richards failed to spot that David Mele's put-in was clearly not straight, and the Tigers put on the squeeze to earn a crucial penalty.

This time Flood made no mistake to boot the hosts into a three-point lead with just three minutes remaining and it was never surrendered.

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