After a thrilling Friday night match between Bath and Wasps, it was always going to be hard to top that entertainment. But Gloucester and Sale Sharks gave it their best shot at Kingsholm, in a match that was high on attacking intent but low on tries. At the final whistle it was revenge for Gloucester Rugby, as they triumphed 20-16 in front of a sell-out crowd.
The Cherry and Whites have had the Sharks in their sights since September when they were on the end of a 57-10 walloping at the AJ Bell Stadium. It was a tight contest but they ensured the mistakes of that night were not repeated.
Attacking Play Lacked Precision
The opening ten minutes was a frantic affair that set the tone for the rets of the match. Gloucester’s revival this season has been characterised by a desire to keep ball and run from anywhere. But Sale have the joint second-highest amount of try bonus points this season, proving they have a dangerous attacking game too.
Unfortunately neither side were able to capitalise fully on their ability to beat tacklers and get in behind their opponents. When Gloucester were in possession, moves invariably broke down because of knock-ons in key areas. In total they gave away 16 turnovers (Sale conceded 15) and this stopped them converting the strong territory and possession they had, particularly in the second half.
Sale Unable to Release Dangerous Wingers
Meanwhile when Sale managed to score their try, through fly-half AJ MacGinty, it came from a set-piece move sparked by playmaker Faf de Klerk. But apart from this moment the visitors could muster no more than 30% territory in either half. It was ironic then that the final play saw Sale camped on the Gloucester five meter line, where they nearly snatched the win.
But the real issue for the Sharks was their inability to get the ball to their dangerous wingers who caused Gloucester all the damage in the reverse fixture. Byron McGuigan and Denny Solomona were peripheral figures and only made 17m between them, compared to their opposite numbers’ 93m. This was perhaps symptomatic of the tight, forward-dominated game this was. On the other hand the wing pair will have been despairing at the sight of rushed offloads disappearing behind them into touch.
Key Player: Billy Twelvetrees
Whilst it was Ben Vellacott who won the fans’ man of the match selection, Billy Twelvetrees was a key reason behind Gloucester’s win. Twelvetrees has taken over the place-kicking duties in recent weeks and after missing the first, he was on target with his next four. Importantly, the final two were the penalties that won his team the match.
Beyond his kicking, the 29 year-old seems to have found the form when he was a starter for England. He has regularly been criticised for being indecisive, or trying to force the play. However his and Gloucester’s style seem to be clicking, and a move to the 13 shirt is reaping rewards.
It may be that as Gloucester tend to keep the ball in hand more often, Twelvetrees can focus on whether to carry or pass, rather than also looking for a kicking opportunity. In addition, he is maturing into a core part of Gloucester’s senior leadership team and whilst still being versatile, he has improved many areas to become a specialist in his own right.
The Happy Changing Room is back as the Cherry and Whites return to winning ways, and secure the Top Four at the turn of the year! pic.twitter.com/NJOK8PwaGS
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) December 30, 2017
Revenge for Gloucester Rugby
Ultimately this match had the potential to be a very high-scoring encounter, and was hampered by a combination of poor execution and the winter weather. Both sides demonstrated excellent defence at times, but Gloucester had enough in the scrum and creative spark to score more points.
The West Country men remain in 4th position and will hope to extend their cushion over rivals against struggling Northampton Saints next weekend. The losing bonus point for Sale keeps them in touch of the Champions Cup places and well above the relegation battle.
This match probably won’t live too long in the memory come the end of the season but it was another important stepping stone for Johan Ackermann’s team.
Main image credit:
GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 30: David Halaifonua of Gloucester dives over to score his side’s first try during the Aviva Premiership match between Gloucester Rugby and Sale Sharks Sharks at Kingsholm Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Embed from Getty Images