Leeds Carnegie 15 Gloucester 13: Leeds breathe sigh of relief after first win

VICTORY at last for Leeds Carnegie, a reprieve from the frustrations that had gone before in the Premiership and renewed hope that they will defy the odds for a second season and avoid relegation.

A win has been a long-time in coming but when it arrived it was thoroughly merited and uproariously celebrated.

The four points gives a squad that has always remained bullish about its ambitions, the confidence that they can battle and beat some of the biggest names in the Premiership.

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Gloucester were a shadow of some of the great Cherry and White teams of days gone by, but they were not allowed to show any sign of the form that has seen them rise to the cusp of the top-four race by a determined Leeds.

Purposeful with ball in hand, miserly in open space and disciplined in contact, Leeds stifled Gloucester with a performance full of heart, character and nous.

It was not so much Michael Stephenson's decisive try that was the most impressive aspect of their belated first win, more the manner in which they closed down any chance of a Gloucester comeback.

For a team that had not won in the league all season, a slender two-point advantage with the clock ticking slowly down would have got even the most evenly-balanced player sweating a little.

But Leeds gave no cause for the New Year's Day crowd to worry, penning the visitors in their own half with good discipline, determined tackling and sensible play.

Not even two missed kicks at goal from Ceiron Thomas, the first a conversion to Stephenson's 59th-minute try and the second a routine penalty, caused anxiety among the blue shirts.

Earlier in the season that profligacy would have been punished, as it was at Kingholm in the second game of the season, when Gloucester snatched victory by a point.

Now Leeds have their victory, the monkey is off their back.

And it's all thanks to a rip-roaring performance from all 20 men who took the field.

To Stephenson for his lunge over the line at the second attempt; to Thomas for the heart he showed, to captain Marco Wentzel who led by example, and to Hendre Fourie whose try in the first half set the tone for victory.

"We're on a total high," said the South Africa-born England flanker afterwards, who attributed the result to the momentum started by the two wins over Crociati Rugby in Europe.

"It's amazing what just a few wins can bring, even if they're in the Challenge Cup.

"We are just building on that winning mentality we've created and hopefully we'll keep on building.

"We've never been negative in the camp, it's always been positive and that's growing and growing as we showed out there on the pitch.

"Every game is really important for us now, we're finding our stride now, we gelled a bit better today, we'd been gelling well the last few weeks and it was a pity we couldn't play those postponed games against Northampton and Newcastle.

"Our game management is getting better. That's where the maturity is showing.

"The next game is now our biggest game so we need to focus on that."

Fourie's try came at the end of a dynamic dash down the left by Lee Blackett that was stopped yards short of the try-line by Rory Lawson.

Henry Fa'afili and Thomas had set the move in motion, and after Lawson's tackle, Fourie followed up and ploughed over.

Gloucester's reply was equally slick; a move from right to left orchestrated by Mike Tindall, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapulo and Olly Morgan and finished by James Simpson-Daniel.

"They only scored the try because we got a bit too narrow," said Fourie. "We worked on that at half-time and they never got round us again."

Thomas traded a conversion and a penalty with England Under-20s fly-half Freddie Burns before the latter edged Gloucester in front on 54 minutes.

The pendulum appeared to have swung, but Leeds flung it back in their direction through their sheer bloody-mindedness to finally end their losing run.

The move for Stephenson's try was a mixture of persistence, patience and intelligence, with replacement scrum-half Scott Mathie the architect and Fourie and Lachlan Mackay heavily involved in a multi-phase attack before the former Bath winger squeezed under a pile of bodies to touch down.

Withstanding any Gloucester pressure was done with the conviction of a top four side and Leeds hung on to kick-start their bid for their more immediate, and now more attainable goal – 11th place.

Leeds: Thomas, Blackett, Fa'afili, Barrow (Burrell 68), Stephenson, MacKay, Fury (Mathie 51); Hardy (MacDonald 51), Thompson, Swainston, Denton, Wentzel, Oakley (Paul 61), Fourie, Browne (Myall 51). Unused replacements: Nilsen, Denman, Hinton.

Gloucester: Morgan, Simpson-Daniel (Sharples 53), Tindall, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Vainikolo, Burns (Robinson 63), R Lawson (Lewis 61); Wood, S Lawson, Capdevielle (Harden 61), James, Brown, Buxton, Hazell (Qera 61), Narraway. Unused replacements: Azam, Thomas, Strokosch.

Referee: T Wigglesworth (RFU).

Scorers

Leeds – tries Fourie, Stephenson; con Thomas; pen Thomas. Gloucester – try Simpson-Daniel; cons Burns; pens Burns 2.