With less than a quarter of the game to go Gloucester were receiving the rugby lesson they deserved. They had failed to achieve two cohesive moves all evening. A strong scrum was followed by a sloppy knock-on. A neat lineout was made irrelevant by an errant pass. “Sticky” is how their head coach, George Skivington, described it.
The score read 17-5 in favour of Bordeaux Bègles and perhaps the French side thought that they had the game won. They reverted to a rudimentary style of play and merely shovelled short balls for lethargic forwards. Gloucester refused to lie down and accept their fate.
Three tries in a blistering 14 minutes helped them flip the script and claim a 22-17 win by keeping Bordeaux scoreless in the second period. Tries by Albert Tuisue and Charlie Chapman capped commendable cameos from the bench. Santiago Socino also contributed five points, rounding off a driving maul that grew in stature as the clock counted down.
Gloucester were behind after two minutes when Sipili Falatea cantered through a weak tackle from Freddie Clarke to score under the poles. Bordeaux only had the ball as Stephen Varney hoofed it out on the full a metre ahead of his 22.
The same error from Santiago Carreras gifted Bordeaux a lineout in a similar position 20 minutes later. After some rumbling carries from the forwards Bordeaux contented themselves with three points from Zack Holmes.
Gloucester’s only cogent play was sparked by Carreras who found Socino on the angle before Varney gathered from a superb support line. The try was scored but Carreras fluffed a simple conversion.
Tom Willis, recently signed from Wasps, burrowed over from close range in the 38th minute and Holmes slotted the extras to make it 17-5 at the break in favour of Bordeaux.
Gloucester started the second half with newfound energy but the same maladies stifled their progress. A lineout five metres from Bordeaux’s line was overthrown while a slick move in which Tuisue made some ground and Val Rapava-Ruskin threw a no-look pass ended with a Bordeaux penalty at the breakdown.
Simply lambasting Gloucester would do a disservice to Bordeaux. Captain Mahamadou Diaby and his fellow back-rowers made it uncomfortable for their hosts. They played a simple game with direct runners off scrum-half Maxime Lucu. At times they were isolated. Mostly they kept moving forward.
That was the case until the final quarter. Then the whole complexion of the game changed as one team tried to hold on to their lead while the other did all they could to reduce it, which they did on 63 minutes thanks to Tuisue and his extra heft. This was the Fijian’s first game back after a four-week suspension for a high tackle on Ireland’s Joey Carbery and he played like a man with a score to settle, receiving the player of the match award.
“We’re excited by Albert this year,” Skivington said. “He had a brilliant impact. On attack and defence. He was outstanding.”
The gap was further reduced when Socino scored a deserved try. It was his 30m break that took Gloucester up field. A penalty gave him the chance to throw in to the lineout and then round off from the back of the maul.
Carreras missed his third conversion but would add the game’s final points, nudging over after Chapman secured the comeback, providing the finishing touches after several phases and passes cut holes in the tiring defence.
If only they had played like that across the 80 minutes. They will need to if they have any hope of turning over Leinster next Friday.