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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 21:23 GMT
Gloucester punish brave Ebbw
Gloucester 46-11 Ebbw Vale
Gloucester progressed into the semi-final of the Parker Pen Shield thanks to a ruthless second half performance at Kingsholm which eventually demoralised the spirited visitors from across the border.
An upset seemed on the cards when Ebbw Vale took an 11-9 half-time lead.
But 37 unanswered points after the break - which included four tries - secured the win that the 7,000 or so passionate home supporters demanded.
French fly-half Ludovic Mercier - who contributed 26 points with his boot - and scrum-half Andy Gomarsall were the catalysts for the victory.
But the Ebbw's cause was certainly not helped by the referee's decision to send three of their players into the sin-bin at various stages during the second half.
Gloucester, clear favourites to win the match, coped best with the almost monsoon conditions during the early stages.
They built up a 9-0 lead after 25 minutes thanks to three perfectly struck penalties from Mercier.
But as the rain came down with greater ferocity, Ebbw Vale began to master the lineouts and were able to set up platforms from which to attack the heart of the home defence.
The pressure first gave Gareth Cull an opportunity to lessen the deficit with a penalty, and two minutes later came the try which seemed to give Ebbw the self-belief that the came was there to be won.
Veteran scrum-half Kevin Ellis' speculative kick into the Gloucester left corner was completely missed by two covering Gloucester defenders so winger Andrew Wagstaff gladly stretched out his left hand to plant the necessary downward pressure on the loose ball.
Cull missed the conversion, but the Welshmen were certainly the happier side as they headed for the shelter of the changing rooms with their narrow half-time lead.
Both teams came out for the second-half in clean jerseys, but it seemed as if Gloucester were in fact a completely different outfit.
They regained the lead with two Mercier penalties in quick succession, and then came the turning point of the match.
In the space of five minutes, Italian referee sent two Ebbw Vale players - first Paul Matthews and then Gareth Cull - into the sin-bin of seemingly innocuous infringements.
Down to the thirteen men, home full-back Darren O'Leary scored his side's first try when he beat the covering defence to a chip kick in the right corner.
Six minutes later, with the visitors only one man down, Gloucester winger James Simpson-Daniel touchdown behind the posts after scrum-half Andy Gomarsall had stretched the covering defence with a superb burst from the back of the scrum.
Both tries were converted by the faultless Mercier, and the game was won.
With just over ten minutes left, the heavy rain gradually began to ease and so too did the Welshmen's resistance.
There was still time though for the referee to decided that Ebbw scrum-half Ellis also deserved a yellow card, and for Gloucester to score two further tries.
Captain Jake Boer crossed the line a minute after Ellis' departure, and then replacement James Forrester scored after a magical run from Mercier.
Both were converted by the Frenchman.
The final score was cruel refection on Ebbw's performance, but Gloucester's gritty second half display showed why they are one of the favourites to win the competition.
Gloucester (9) 46
Ebbw Vale (11) 11
Gloucester: D O'Leary; J Simpson-Daniel, T Fanolua, R Todd, D Albanese; L Mercier, A Gomersall; F Pucciariello, C Fortey, P Collazo, A Eustace, M Cornwell, J Boer, J Paramore, A Hazell.
Ebbw Vale: M James; A Takarangi, R Shorney, P Matthews, A Wagstaff; G Cull, K Ellis; I Thomas, L Phillips, M Jones, C Billen (capt), N Edwards, K Tuipolotu, P Williams, W Thomas.
Referee: De Santes (Italy)
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