Mercier's champagne season tops 500 points

Zurich Championship Final

Bristol 23 Gloucester 28

TWENTY YEARS AGO Gloucester shared the Pilkington Cup with Moseley after a 12-12 draw at Twickenham but the Cherry and Whiteís last outright win was as far back as 1978 when Leicester were beaten 6-3.
    By beating Bristol for the fourth time this season, 28-23, Gloucester have at long last won a major trophy - the Zurich Championship 2002. Like so many other Cup Finals the match never reached any great heights or attracted many neutral spectators but surely that is no more than you can expect from the last game of the longest ever rugby season.
    Only the rugby administrators could come up with a competition calendar that finished in June with only days between the final two matches and at the same time talk about reducing the demands made on the top players.
    Gloucesterís Championship Final performance was not one of their seasonís best but that will soon be forgotten. When the euphoria of winning dies down, no one should get too carried away but the expectation of Gloucester will be even higher next season but the spirit and will to win is there as the deserved Twickenham victory proved.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††    The game rarely flowed or gained momentum as there were too many infringements but Bristol could never match Gloucesterís physical strength or the spirited teamís mental toughness which produced, in the main, an awesome defence to back up the forwardís effort Although Bristol clawed their way back to within two points in the second half, Gloucester deserved their win. In previous seasons they would probably faded but this squad is made of sterner stuff and ended up on top.
    A year ago, Gloucesterís stand off Ludovic Mercier was playing for the lowly third division French club Aurillac. With 23 points at Twickenham he passed the 500 point mark for the season, a truly superb achievement. Although Ludo still has much to learn his general play has developed throughout the season and he is now becoming more than just a prolific kicker.
    Gloucester made the better start. Ludo kicked a penalty from within his own half, which went on to and over the bar to set the Gloucester fans chanting ĎLudo, Ludoí as he added another within minutes.
    Gloucester just had the edge over their opponents in the scrum and in their play from ruck and driving maul but it was a different matter in the line-out where Bristol stole too much ball.
    Bristolís Argentine no. 10 Contepomi slotted a penalty and at the end of the first quarter Gloucester held a 6-3 lead. Patrice Collazo was sin-binned for a high tackle on the other Argentinean Pichot but Bristol were unable to take any advantage from the extra man as they too suffered from the yellow card. Winger Phil Christophers was given a ten minute rest for a cynical foul on Tom Beim.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††    Collazo returned and had a key role to play as Gloucester scored their only try. Gomarsall worked the ball in to the Bristol 25, Henry Paul linked up with Collazo who fed Jake Boer on the inside for the industrious flanker to score the first try. Ludoís left boot did the rest with a conversion from the touchline and a penalty to put Gloucester 16-6 in front at the break.
    With a ten point deficit, Bristol needed an early score in the second half and they got just that. Gloucester were penalised for a high tackle on Contepomi and their defence was caught napping. Pichot quickly took the penalty and left the lax defence standing to slide over under the posts. Contepomiís easy conversion put Bristol right back in the game at 16-13.
    Bristol winger Jamie Williams then went round Darren OíLeary on the outside but fortunately for Gloucester, he put a foot in touch. Junior Paramore, uncharacteristically quiet, knocked on and the red shirted fanís nerves began to jangle. Gloucester weathered the storm as Terry Fanolua made a storming run to cross the line but was denied a try by referee Roy Maybank.
    Henry Paul forced Bristolís full back Lee Best to carry over for more Gloucester forward pressure until Ludo kicked two more penalties.
    Bristol hit back as poor line out marking allowed replacement Bristol prop Paul Johnstone to go through a gap as wide as the Red Sea as Gloucester shirts opened up in front of him to score in the corner. Contepomi converted with a fine kick from the touchline to take Bristol within two points to increase the tension.
    As ever, Garath Archer helped the Gloucester cause as he gave away a penalty for Ludo to put the Cherry and Whites back to a five point margin.
    However Gloucester fanís nerves were not helped as Contepomi kicked another penalty to reduce the deficit once more but Gloucesterís concentration held firm Ludo missed out with a couple of long range drop goal attempts before Archerís indiscipline again paid the penalty, to give Gloucester the chance to extend their lead as fittingly, Ludo, with two more injury-time kicks, saw Gloucester home. Tension mounted as time seemed to go on and on, almost as long as the season itself but at last the emotional finish. Exhaustion for the Gloucester players but finally after all those barren years, the relief, elation and celebration of winning a Twickenham final.
    We didnít have to resort to cynical gamesmanship to win the Zurich Championship but next seasonís Heineken European Cup campaign will be a much tougher challenge.

Paul; O'Leary, Fanolua, Todd, Beim, Mercier,Gomarsall;
Collazo (Woodman), azam, Vickery, Fidler, Pearce, Forrester, Paramore, Boer

Best; Williams, Rees, Little,Christophers; Comtepomi, Pichot;
Crompton, (Johnstone), McCarthy, White, Archer, Brown, Short ,Sturnham, Lipman



Saturday 8 June 2002