Planet Rugby

Gloucester wear down Biarritz

11th October 2008 19:11

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Mike Tindall wrapped up by Biarritz

No way through: Mike Tindall gets no change from the Biarritz defence

Gloucester kicked off their Heineken Cup assault with a 19-10 win over Biarritz on Saturday at Kingsholm, badly exposing the French side's frailties and limitations in the process.

After an ugly first 40 minutes which Gloucester shaded 9-3 on the scoreboard but won by miles on the pitch, James Simpson-Daniel's try with the final move of the half put the daylight between the teams that was utterly deserved.

Totally against the run of play, Biarritz snatched a try back after the break, and kept themselves in the game with some more steely defence, but Gloucester enjoyed an untold wealth of possession, and made it count in the end.

Biarritz were awful, but incredibly awkward. The Basque fans have been bemoaning the lack of inventiveness in attack for the past couple of seasons, and the close season change in coaching staff was supposed to have cured that. But there is little difference between this season's model and last season's, bar a couple of extra flashes on the kit and a couple of new faces. Gloucester had 27 line-outs in the end - a measure of Biarritz's ambition, and that doesn't factor in the number of kicks that didn't make it to touch.

Gloucester tried very hard, but they have a few inner demons of their own to conquer. Having flattered to dedeive for a coupe of years by playing England's most attractive rugby, they have clearly opted for a more pragmatic approach, yet the players seemed at odds with it the whole time.

The practical upshot was that at times Gloucester would run wide whe they needed pragmatism, at others they put their heads down or kicked when hands would have been the wiser option. Decision-making in Glocuester is still a problem.

It didn't make for much of a game. referee Peter Allan did his best to control the rucks, but Biarritz came solely to defend, spoil and hope things went their way. The penalty count was a faintly ludicrous 18-7, and it was a wonder Allan did not card Magnus Lund as well as Jerome Thion.

Lund's first trangression at a ruck gave Gloucester the lead after two minutes, and his second ensured Barkley landed a second to make it 6-0.

Julien Peyrelongue dropped a goal to make it 6-3 after eleven minutes, but three minutes later Barkley should have made it 9-3 when Thion went over the top.

That was Biarritz all afternoon: over the top, around the side, lying on the ball... you half-expected one of the flankers to tunnel under a ruck at times, just so he could pop up on the wrong side of the ruck and sack the scrum-half without the ball.

Gloucester got frustrated, and Olly Morgan let it boil over a little too much, tackling Damien Traille some 50cm above the turf. He was yellow-carded for his troubles, but Gloucester produced their best spell of the half in the immediate aftermath, with Simpson-Daniel and Tindall going close. Iain Balshaw also threatened. The best Biarritz had to offer was a looping pass to Takudzwa Ngwenya which flew harmlessly into touch.

When Thion strayed around the wrong side after half an hour, he left for ten minutes and Barkley made it 9-3, and finally, belatedly, and blessedly, Simpson-Daniel was put into space on the stroke of half-time for a try, which Barkley converted to make it 16-3.

Gloucester might have opened the champagne in the second half, but they were rocked three minutes into it by Biarritz's lone moment of excellence, when Romain Cabannes ghosted past Barkley's flapping arm and popped to Jean-Baptiste Gobelet on his inside for a score under the Gloucester posts.

Cue a second half that mirrored the first. Two moments stood out: a Ryan Lamb chip and chase which nearly yielded a score, and a booming run by Biarritz prop Fabien Barcella which ought to have yielded a try had the phases after it not been so suffocatingly slow.

Barkley landed a penalty near the hour mark, and Lamb landed one two minutes from the end to make the game entirely safe. That was pretty much it.

Still, Gloucester have done the job and can roll on to Cardiff next week for a pivotal match where they might find more space to run into, but might also be more severely tested in defence. It will be interesting to see if the decision-making will pick up then as well.

The scorers:

For Gloucester:

Try: Simpson-Daniel

Con: Barkley

Pens: Barkley 4

For Biarritz:

Try: Gobelet

Con: Traille

Drop goal: Peyrelongue

Yellow cards: Morgan (Gloucester, 21, dangeroius tackle), Thion (Biarritz, 30, persistent infringement)

Gloucester: 15 Olly Morgan, 14 Iain Balshaw, 13 Mike Tindall (c), 12 Olly Barkley, 11 James Simpson-Daniel, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Alasdair Strokosch, 6 Peter Buxton, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami, 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jack Forster, 18 Adam Eustace, 19 Andy Hazell, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Willie Walker, 22 Lesley Vainikolo.

Biarritz: 15 Benjamin Thiery, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Romain Cabannes, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Jean-Baptiste Gobelet, 10 Julien Peyrelongue, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Jacques Cronje, 7 Samiu Vahafolau, 6 Magnus Lund, 5 David Couzinet, 4 Jerome Thion (c), 3 Mosese Moala, 2 Benoit August, 1 Fabien Barcella.

Replacements: 16 Benoit Bourrust, 17 Eduard Coetzee, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Peio Som, 20 Laurent Tranier, 21 Andrea Masi, 22 Philippe Bidabe.

Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)

Touch judges: Rob Dickson (Scotland), Ron Dumma (Scotland)

Television match official: Andy Ireland (Scotland)

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