Planet Rugby

Gloucester book a date at home

20th January 2008 14:50

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Lesley Vainikolo Gloucester Ulster

Road Kill: Lesley Vainikolo lines up Rory Best

Gloucester secured their berth in the Heineken Cup play-offs courtesy of a tense 29-21 victory over a proud Ulster side at Kingsholm, thereby finishing top of Pool Two and booking a home quarter-final.

The Irish visitors, looking to impress new coach Matt Williams, put in a spirited performance to take the Pool Two game to the wire.

But the Guinness Premiership leaders proved too powerful at Kingsholm, where they will play their knock-out tie in April.

They made their intentions patently clear from the outset with a barrage of searing breaks, initiated by Lesley Vainikolo.

The giant Tongan-born winger had only been back at the club for two days, having flown back from New Zealand following the death of his father.

Vainikolo received a hero's welcome from the Kingsholm faithful who have taken him to their hearts in the six months since he switched codes from Bradford Bulls.

Vainikolo may not have got onto the scoresheet, but his contribution and that of England centre Mike Tindall proved too much power for Ulster.

James Simpson-Daniel also displayed the footwork to cause problems on the other wing.

Yet mistakes at the breakdown and more damagingly at the line-out denied Gloucester from establishing the dominance they wanted on home soil.

Their first try, scored by Fiji flank Akapusi Qera following a swivelling break by Tindall in the 18th minute was soon cancelled out by Tommy Bowe, who put the finishing touch to a cross-field break by scrum-half Isaac Boss.

Alasdair Strokosch was next over the whitewash for Gloucester, stretching under the posts to cap a solid period of pressure, and Chris Paterson converted both.

Although they lost winger Mark McCrea to the sin-bin, Ulster did not let up but were unable to add to their tally with Paddy Wallace suffering an off day and missing three penalties.

But they managed to find space for Andrew Trimble to go over four minutes into the second half, with Wallace's second conversion bringing Ulster level at 14-14.

Gloucester responded with two well crafted tries, both involving Simpson-Daniel.

Qera crossed for his second and Iain Balshaw, who had missed out twice earlier in the game due to poor passes, wrapped up the bonus point with nine minutes remaining.

Bowe's second try, converted by Niall O'Connor, a rallying finish from the visitors and Qera's yellow card set up a rousing finale.

But replacement back row Luke Narraway made the game safe with a well-worked try that used the width of the pitch and denied Ulster even a consolation point.

The scorers:

For Gloucester:

Tries: Qera 2, Strokosch, Balshaw, Narraway

Cons: Paterson 2

For Ulster:

Tries: Bowe 2, Trimble

Cons: Wallace 3

Yellow card(s): McCrea (Ulster) - tackling the man in the air, 35; Quera (Gloucester) - dangerous tackle, 79

Gloucester: 15 Iain Balshaw, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Chris Paterson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Peter Buxton, 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Nick Wood.

Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 Christian Califano, 18 Will James, 19 Luke Narraway, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Ryan Lamb, 22 Willie Walker.

Ulster: 15 Mark Bartholomeusz, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Andrew Trimble, 12 Paul Steinmetz, 11 Mark McCrae, 10 Paddy Wallace, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Grant Webb, 7 Neil Best, 6 Matt McCullough, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Justin Harrison, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Bryan Young.

Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 Carlo Del Fava, 19 Neil McMillan, 20 Kieran Campbell, 21 Niall O'Connor, 22 Seamus Mallon.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Touch judges: Eric Soulan (France), Jean-Pierre Vermande (France)

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