Gloucester break their duck
PREMIERSHIP REPORT: First-half tries from John Afoa and Charlie Sharples and the flawless kicking of Greig Laidlaw helped Gloucester break their Premiership duck.
The 26-13 victory at Sale Sharks on Friday also saw them move into the top four.
The Sharks had already claimed the scalp of Harlequins at their fortress of the AJ Bell Stadium this season but despite Sam James and Cameron Neild scores they were always behind against the Cherry & Whites.
Afoa went over early after fine work from Billy Burns and while James summoned an immediate response, Sharples' score just before the interval proved to be something of a killer blow.
And the nerveless kicking of Laidlaw in the second half then kept the Sharks at bay despite Neild's effort from a rolling maul.
This was the first competitive win for David Humphreys' side since April and after a narrow loss to Leicester Tigers and a draw with Worcester Warriors - these four points will bring much confidence.
Gloucester are the only side in the last 13 Premiership clashes to have won at the AJ Bell Stadium and they didn't seem to be showing any signs of fear in the opening skirmishes.
Burns' searing break left Halani Aulika in his wake and when he was collared he fed Afoa and the former All Black sprinted clear under the posts for the game's first try inside nine minutes.
Laidlaw added the extras and the Cherry & Whites were 7-0 ahead before Sale had even fired a shot.
But not for nothing are the Sharks so formidable at home and only four minutes later they had their response, Saxons centre James powering over down the right as the hosts finally clicked into gear.
Dan Mugford could not add the extras however and Gloucester stayed two points clear, and that was soon 10-5 when Laidlaw slotted a penalty after Neil Briggs failed to roll away.
Mugford was the hero with the boot against Quins last time out but his second attempt of the night drifted wide just before the half-hour mark and Will Addison then took over the duties and showed him how it was done.
That meant the Sharks only trailed 10-8 with half-time approaching but the Cherry & Whites summoned the killer blow on the stroke of the interval.
Ben Morgan's initial break established the territory and then Tom Marshall's superb kick in behind found no-one at home except Sharples and the ball sat up perfectly for the winger to dot down. Laidlaw's conversion made it 17-8 at the break.
Steve Diamond's Sharks needed the first score of the second half and Neild duly provided it - burrowing over at the back of a classic Sharks rolling maul.
But Addison could not add the extras and at 17-13 the game was delicately poised entering the final quarter.
However, instead of the Sharks mounting a late challenge it was the dead-eyed kicking of Laidlaw that put this game to bed - the Scotland skipper slotting three penalties in the last quarter of an hour to put the Cherry & Whites home and hosed at 26-13.
For Sale Sharks:
Cons: Laidlaw 2
Pens: Laidlaw 4
Sale Sharks: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Will Addison. 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Paolo Odogwu, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 David Seymour, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Jonathan Mills, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Ross Harrison, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Andrei Ostrikov, 19 Magnus Lund, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Nev Edwards, 23 Sam Bedlow.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9, Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Lewis Ludlow, 5 Joe Latta, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 James Hook, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Paul Burton, Simon McConnell
TMO: Sean Davey