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Franklins Gardens Northampton     Parker Pen SHIELD Semi-Final                         Sunday 28 April 2002
Gloucester 27 Sale 28

GLOUCESTERíS supporters and players started celebrating after 80 minutes when Ludovic Mercier lined up a straightforward penalty attempt. With the Cherry and Whites trailing by a single point surely this was perfect opportunity to seal a place in the final of the Parker Pen Shield.
    Nine times out of ten you would bet that Ludo would come up with the goods. But horror of horrors, he seemed to slip and miss hit the kick and this time the Mercier metronome missed a beat, the touch judges flags stayed down and that was the final blow for Gloucesterís European adventure for this season.
    No short trip to Oxford to meet Pontypridd for a chance of that elusive piece of silverware and success. Back to basics next week with Bath at Kingsholm and then the long haul up to Yorkshire to meet Leeds in the last Zurich Premiership league fixtures of the season. So another semi-final will be remembered for the wrong reason. Ludoís missed kick meant that Gloucester failed yet again but the simple fact is that the damage was done long before that.
    Gloucester were as inconsistent as ever and really did not play well enough for the whole eighty minutes. In reality Gloucester only played to their true potential during the first and final quarter of the match.

    In between the Cherry and Whites lost their way, kicked too much ball away, missed tackles with slack covering and generally played poorly with only scraps of possession and little territory or advantage. For the fourth consecutive match Gloucesterís recent dreadful defence was exposed and again conceded four tries.
    Gloucester had started at a rate of knots with pace and power as the pack took control before a try by Terry Fanolua and Ludoís boot opened up a 13 point lead. Sale were almost down and out but Gloucester seemed to ease up and then it all went pear shaped for the Cherry and Whites.
    Sale clawed their way back into the game as their three quarters came more into play and scored well worked tries in the corners through their two powerful wingers Mike Cueto and Steve Hanley. Charlie Hodgson had kicked a penalty but missed the conversions as the strong, swirling wind made conditions difficult for both sides.
    At the break Sale were right back in contention with scores level at 13-13 but more importantly, the Sharks were in the ascendancy.
    After the interval Sale took up just as they had left off in the first half, as hooker Charl Marais added a third unconverted try. It was all Sale pressure as they played some good rugby before centre Dan Harris scored their fourth try. Hodgson did convert this score and then slotted a penalty to open up a 28-13 lead. 28 points from Sale without reply, proved to be the difference as Gloucester were pinned in their own half for lengthy periods.
    At long last Gloucester began to regain some forward momentum to establish some territorial advantage. Diego Albanese, one of six replacements used, found some space and James Forrester was on hand to score for Ludo to add the conversion.
    Another concerted drive by the Gloucester pack allowed Terry Fanolua to get his second try which was also converted.
    Ludo missed a long range drop goal attempt by a fraction before Gloucester were awarded the crucial injury time penalty. Gloucesterís players and fans thought this was the chance the pack had worked for. Ludoís miss is now history and whereas Gloucester won at Bristol last week by a single point this time the boot was on the other foot.
    In truth Gloucester did not deserve to win, they did not compete for the duration of the match. Their inability to control the play either side of half time cost them dear. Certainly Gloucester have not got it right in the centre or at full back either and it looks like Mr Melville will have to further explore other options this season but perhaps he needs new players in these key positions for next season?


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