Another week, another moment of magic from Danny Cipriani’s “golden wrists” for Gloucester. His defence-splitting pass salvaged a draw for Gloucester from the West Country Derby against Bath. How it got to that position from a 21-0 lead shows there are still doubts about the Gloucester Rugby mental strength that has been frail over the past few seasons.
It raises the question of whether the Cherry and Whites still need to develop a ruthless edge to push for the top four. Three league points and remaining unbeaten will be welcome, but there is work to do.
Defensive shape exploited by Bath
The Gloucester coaching team will note Bath’s main scoring threat came from down the wings, where they were often able to engineer an overlap. Indeed this led to three of their four tries that nearly won them the game; particularly for Elliott Stooke’s try to take the lead, it was the half-backs Vellacott and Cipriani who were left scrambling to cover, with no winger in sight.
The wings matchups were two clear size mismatches: Cokanasiga vs Sharples and Rokoduguni vs Banahan. It was Bath who exploited this better, mostly through releasing Cokanasiga. Whilst Gloucester were mostly successful in using the touchline, they’ll be concerned about how often Bath could advance on the tryline.
It’s not over until it’s over
Gloucester supporters are far too accustomed to their side throwing away leads, and they were almost left disappointed again at the Rec. A 21-0 lead should never be surrendered, whether at home or away. In recent years, agonising defeats to Leicester, Harlequins and Cardiff Blues among others remain painfully in the memory.
Their performance in Round One against Northampton Saints hinted at an improvement in the Gloucester Rugby mental strength, as did the first 30 minutes against Bath. They were clinical in attack, and were mostly in front on the scoreboard. The concern is, as it often has been, is that Gloucester cannot hold a lead.
This ability will be tested again in Round Three, in another West Country derby against Bristol Bears. Pat Lam’s men have already proved they will be competitive in the premiership; Gloucester cannot underestimate their rivals if they want the win.
Revenge for Returning Matt Banahan
Johan Ackermann can however point to the fact his side were able to respond to going behind the final five minutes. An ever-improving lineout set up an attacking position and then a penalty advantage in the Bath 22, which allowed the powerplay move.
Ooooh @DannyCipriani87 😍
WHAT. A. PASS. 🙌
The man is playing with wing mirrors on 👏 pic.twitter.com/5njY1qBhyV
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 8, 2018
Two passes got the ball to Cipriani, who shifted the ball over the defence with Jamie Roberts bearing down on him. Remarkably this found Jason Woodward in space, who drew the defender and passed to Matt Banahan. It was inevitable the former Bath man would score, and Todd Blackadder will be further ruing his decision to let the big Jerseyman leave. Banahan scored underneath his father-in-law’s box, making the moment even sweeter.
'That bloke from Bath' pic.twitter.com/8YCJUNwOsN
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) September 8, 2018
A nerveless Billy Twelvetrees kept up his 100% record off the tee to level the scores at 31-all. Notably it was from almost the exact spot Owen Williams kicked the winning conversion in this match last season.
Gloucester Rugby Mental Strength still to be Proved
Whilst a second late try in two seasons to earn a result at Bath is impressive, Gloucester still need to prove themselves. It is hard to believe that Saracens or Exeter Chiefs would have allowed themselves to get in such a position. This is a key characteristic of a top Premiership side. Gloucester still must strive for this. Their next hosts in the league, Saracens, will not be so generous in gifting a large headstart.
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