LEICESTER TIGERS 17 GLOUCESTER 12
STUBBORN, bloody-minded accuracy wins Leicester Tigers trophies year after year.
Such an unrelenting and pinpoint approach accounted for the victory at Welford Road in the last fixture of 2012.
Gloucester’s last-gasp heroics lit up a fraught, tense and at times turgid affair.
But it was superior line kicking and tactical back-three field position control and dominance that guided Leicester to the win.
Fine interplay from Sione Kalamafoni and Matt Cox set Shane Monahan from one 22 to the other as Gloucester battled to turn the tide at the death.
Dan Robson nearly scooted home after skinning Logovi’i Mulipola.
Gloucester wasted a tap penalty with a crossfield kick – but then got another chance when they won an unlikely penalty from a Leicester scrum.
The Cherry and Whites drove for the whitewash again – but were turned over on the line and Leicester held firm.
The final whistle had the Tigers deservedly wiping a layer of worry sweat from their muddied brows.
But in truth the better team won out.
The game’s defining moment was not to be that Hail Mary rally from the visitors.
Instead it was a hurried and pressured pass over the top from Freddie Burns that set events in motion towards the decisive – and the game’s only – try.
Billy Twelvetrees knocked on in a desperate full-extension salvage job, Leicester pounced and stayed calm under Gloucester’s resolute defence.
Greed once again got the better of Manu Tuilagi, who refused an overlap five metres out, only to be sent hurtling backwards.
But then Ben Youngs nipped round the ruck, and set Anthony Allen into the right corner.
Gloucester’s rugby director Nigel Davies conceded that was probably the crucial moment.
Pleased with Gloucester’s overall progress this term despite the slender loss, he explained:
“It was probably a fair result, although we could well have snuck it.
“We failed to exit a couple of times and that cost us.
“But to come here, not play that well and nearly win, that just shows our progress.
“With ambitions to be one of the top teams, we have to get those basics right.”
Gloucester were battered in the scrum in the first half.
Shaun Knight was sin-binned for three-straight collapsed scrums, and that put the Cherry and Whites on the back-foot despite George Ford shanking two shocking penalty attempts.
Burns was able to slot two goals of his own to leave Gloucester 6-3 to the good at the break, though he did miss with his third attempt when Ben Youngs was handed a yellow card.
Tigers boss Richard Cockerill bemoaned Andrew Small’s inconsistent scrum refereeing, in some respects reasonably.
Small probably dished out the yellow card to Knight prematurely.
In sending a Gloucester man to the bench after just three problem scrums, he set a precedent he would then struggle to sustain.
Gloucester duly infringed a host more times at the scrum, only for Small to keep his cards firmly in his pocket.
Youngs was sin-binned as Gloucester battled towards half-time, but Burns could not convert the penalty chance.
The visitors had got away with several hairy moments in their own 22 with loose play – and that proved a portent of trouble to come that the Kingsholm men could not heed.
Just as Youngs completed his sin-bin after the break, Ford traded places with him.
Burns fly-hacked clear into the Tigers 22, dropping onto the ball rather than hack on again.
Ford flopped down on top – and stayed there – and duly received the just yellow card.
This time Burns potted the penalty to give Gloucester a 9-3 lead.
But then came that hurried pass when he should have leathered the ball clear, and former Gloucester man Allen struck.
Will James was then sin-binned for cynically breaking up a maul from a woefully offside position.
Geordan Murphy slotted one penalty with Ford still in the bin.
Burns missed a tough goal shot of his own, before Ford returned to extend Leicester’s lead to 14-9.
Burns cut the deficit with his fourth penalty of the night, as the game hit the last ten minutes.
Ford restored Leicester’s five-point advantage, teeing up a grandstand finale in the sodden East Midlands fort.
Leicester’s baying crowd expected a victory parade – but Gloucester countered.
The Cherry and Whites produced their best rugby of the match at the vital time.
All it lacked was the finish.
But taking losing bonus-points from away trips to Harlequins, Saracens and now Leicester underlines Gloucester’s increasing willpower.
Add in that extra accurate edge, and Davies’ men can cling onto that coveted top-four spot.
LEICESTER TIGERS: Tries: Allen (48). Pens: Ford 3 (5, 59, 71), Murphy (55).
GLOUCESTER: Pens: Burns 4 (8, 27, 44, 69).
LEICESTER TIGERS: Youngs (36), Ford (44).
GLOUCESTER: Knight (24), James (54).
LEICESTER TIGERS: G Murphy, N Morris, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Thompstone, G Ford, B Youngs, M Ayerza (L Mulipola, 59), T Youngs (G Chuter, 75), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 59), L Deacon (capt), G Parling, B Deacon (S Mafi, 49), J Salvi, J Crane. Unused: E Slater, S Harrison, D Bowden, M Smith.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas, C Sharples, M Tindall (T Molenaar, 69), B Twelvetrees, S Monahan, F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 69), N Wood (D Murphy, 55), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk, 65), S Knight (D Chistolini, 55), W James (T Savage, 65), J Hamilton (capt), S Kalamafoni, A Qera (D Chistolini, 24-34, M Cox, 69), B Morgan. Unused: D Lewis.
REFEREE: A Small.