Saturday, January 20, 2007

Meaningless Yet Meaningful

Gloucester 19 – Leinster 13

To be frank, I didn’t really feel like attending this fixture a few days ago. The injustice of the Agen result had sorely tested me and I felt convinced that all that remained was a meaningless match against a hot and slick Irish outfit who could very well humiliate a weakened home side. As things turned out, I was proved utterly wrong. The right noises came out of Castle Grim all week and it seemed apparent that, for the sake of pride, the club was all out to win. Selection hinted at this. The marvellous, marvellous performance proved it.

The match itself developed into a classic encounter. It may be a touch simplistic to describe events as a battle between the Gloucester forwards and the Leinster backs but the home eight dominated in both tight and loose while the pack’s picking and driving were as fine as I have witnessed at the old venue. The Leinster three-quarters were always dangerous but brave and incisive tackling kept the try count down to single Brian O’Driscoll poach that equalised the Cherry and Whites’ early penalty try. A seven-all score line at the break was a concern as Gloucester had played the first period with a gusty gale behind them but a heroic performance lay ahead. Some Gloucester substitutions this season have been criticised but coach Ryan had it spot on after the break as beefy and belligerent displays from replacements Califano, Azam and the forgotten man of the squad, Will James, a revelation with his abrasive, bullish galloping, demonstrated. My man of the match was Peter Buxton who, again, drove the hard yards, made the energy-sapping tackles and grafted, grafted, grafted for the city. ‘Bucko’ is in the form of his life and he is my player of the season thus far; such an unfashionable, unselfish and effective force deserves every plaudit going.

At the end of the day, the thrills and spills of this fixture mean nothing tangible in terms of trophies and qualification. However, the victory was against a team packed with internationals desperate to vanquish in order to attain a home quarter-final draw; the confidence gained from Leinster’s insouciant dispatch will hopefully prove a springboard to further success and, if so, this could prove the most telling result of the season thus far.

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