Bristol top after Strange day

By Ben Blackmore  

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Jason Strange landed a drop goal with the final kick of the game to put Bristol top of the Guinness Premiership courtesy of a 14-12 victory against Gloucester.

The West Country rivals entered the match level on points and served up feisty encounter in difficult rainswept conditions at the Memorial Stadium.

Willie Walker kicked all of the visitors' points and appeared to have won them the game when he landed his fourth penalty in the 76th minute to put Gloucester 12-11 ahead - the first time they had led.

That would have been rough justice on Bristol, whose forwards had controlled the game, and scored its only try through hooker Mark Regan.

In the end they did have the last word, setting up the field position that allowed replacement fly-half Strange to make his match-winning intervention.

The only try of the match arrived on five minutes after Bristol scrum-half Brian O'Riordan's kick exposed an out of position Gloucester defence.

After working the ball through several more phases, the hosts went to the blind side and unleashed Regan [pictured], who forced his way over in the left-corner from close range.

Kiwi fly-half David Hill missed the touchline conversion, but did extend his side's lead to 8-0 with a 14th-minute penalty after Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam was penalised for entering at the side of a ruck.

Gloucester enjoyed their first period of sustained possession mid-way through the half, moving the ball upfield through a series of uncomplicated rucks, and eventually earning a penalty that Walker slotted to get them on the board.

The hosts responded with a Hill drop goal on their next foray to reassert an eight-point advantage.

But the home side's tactics while defending rucks had drawn referee Rob Debney's ire throughout the opening half, and he finally lost patience in the 35th minute when centre Rob Higgitt was dispatched for 10 minutes in the sin bin after killing the ball.

Gloucester took advantage of the extra man to reduce their deficit to 11-9 by half-time courtesy of two Walker penalties, while Bristol suffered a further setback as loosehead prop David Hilton had to be replaced by Alex Clarke after receiving a knee in the back from opposite number Nick Wood.

It was Bristol who came out firing after the interval, Hill narrowly missing with a penalty attempt, before No.8 Daniel Ward-Smith was prominent in an end-to-end move that finished with visiting full-back Olly Morgan having to scramble back and touch down behind his own line.

The worsening conditions made for a forward-dominated contest, but the hosts' pack made up for the lack of expansive rugby with a controlled display.

They were tested to the full during a series of scrums close to their own line during the second half, eventually earning a penalty that allowed Hill to use his boot to clear the danger.

After Hill picked up an injury and had been replaced by Strange for the final 15 minutes, Bristol again found themselves pinned deep into their own half.

And as the game entered the final five minutes, Gloucester lock Alex Brown's soaring take in the lineout set up a rolling maul that was brought down using foul means.

Walker stepped up to stroke his fourth penalty from wide on the right and put his side 14-12 ahead with four minutes left on the clock.

But it was not enough, as Bristol's forwards went straight onto the attack at the other end, creating the time and space that allowed Strange to have the final say with the last kick of the game.

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