When it comes to club occasions, few domestic games can match the intensity of Gloucester against Bath. You only had to see the “sold out” signs last Monday to realise that, and the feeling will be heightened a little because the prospect of another game between the two fiercest of rugby rivals in two weeks time was taken away by events last weekend.
While Bath were crushing a Brive side without an away win in the Top 14 all season, and with most of their leading players rested, Gloucester’s interest in the Amlin Challenge Cup ended at Wasps.
I recall seeing details of the Italian officials and wondering what impact that might have in a game between two English sides. I’m not one of those who suggests that Gloucester get the thin end of the wedge every time from referees – that simply doesn’t wash – but when some of the injured players take to social media in disbelief at a key decision while the game is still in progress, that says to me that the use of the TMO has to be looked at.
The score in question was the second Wasps try, awarded early in the second half with the score at 13-3. There were two elements of doubt – had the ball been touched down short of the line, and was there a knock on in the build up. The TMO was introduced to make sure the correct decision is made, but sometimes the conversation between the referee and the TMO makes that difficult. It shouldn’t be.
Ultimately, the referee goes to the TMO because he wants to check if a try is scored. He should only ask the TMO if he can confirm the touchdown. If neither are sure, it’s not a try. What we often hear is “is there any reason why I cannot award a try?” which is a very different question.
Moreover, the decisions, as on Sunday, are taking far too long. The body language of the players directly involved usually says a lot, and if the officials can’t decide within what I believe ought to be a limited time (maybe 2 minutes) then it should be a five metre scrum. Sunday’s decision for Festuccia’s try took an eternity.
It must be said however, that Wasps deserved to win. Gloucester’s Director of Rugby Nigel Davies said afterwards that his team “didn’t fire any shots” until it was too late, and those shots only came when Nathan Hughes was in the bin.
The win at Exeter at the end of March suggested Gloucester had taken a step forward, but it looked to have lost ground again at Adams Park. The Shed – Gloucester’s famous terrace where some 5,000 fans regularly create a raucous atmosphere – will hope to lift the team once more, especially as all Gloucester’s eggs are now in the Premiership basket. 7th place is the realistic target, the spot that will carry with it a play off for the final berth in next season’s European Champions Cup.
The rivalry has existed between Gloucester and Bath since the 1980’s when both were part of the first Courage League, the original version of what we now know as the Premiership. Both have been in it ever since, with Wasps the only other ever-present.
There was also a sequence of Cup semi finals around the same time (1985, 1989, 1992 and 1996) along with the final in 1990. All of those games were won by Bath. I remember talking to Kinghsolm PA announcer Graham Spring about this fixture. “It felt like the world had ended when we lost at Twickenham 24 years ago” he said. “The will to beat Bath stems from memories of disappointment”.
Overall, however, results have been re-balanced since. The League record is now close, with Gloucester trailing only 20-18 in terms of wins, with two matches drawn. Among those facing their old club will be Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and Bath lock Dave Attwood, whose duel with Elliot Stooke should be one of fascinating sub-plots to a game over 16,000 fans will have been looking forward to for weeks.
Passion and pride, heritage and history. All mixed with banter and beer inside the ground. A fixture with feeling, but without a football in sight.
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