Gloucester claim top spot
Simpson-Daniel proves the difference in West Country decider
By Joe Drabble. Last Updated: 13/05/08 8:33am
Simpson-Daniel: Match-winning score
Gloucester finished the Guinness Premiership season at the top of the table after James Simpson-Daniel's first half score handed the hosts an 8-6 victory at Kingsholm.
Simpson-Daniel's stunning individual score ultimately proved decisive and as Gloucester celebrated finishing the regular season in top spot, Bath found themselves staring down the barrel at an away play-off clash after the defeat condemned them to a third place finish.
Gloucester will host Leicester, and Bath travel to Wasps in next weekend's play-off fixtures as Steve Meehan's men will aim to become the first side playing on away soil to reach the Guinness Premiership decider at Twickenham.
On a glorious afternoon in the West Country both sides immediately showed their intent to finish the regular season top of the table with a string of thumping tackles.
Bath enjoyed the majority of the possession in the early stages, but it was Mike Tindall who came within yards of opening the scoring before scrum-half Michael Claassens produced a superb try-saving tackle.
That was to be Tindall's final significant contribution to the game as the former Bath centre was forced to leave the field through injury - Willie Walker slotted into the Gloucester back line in his place.
The first points of the afternoon, perhaps unsurprisingly came from the boot of Ryan Lamb after he converted a penalty conceded by Andrew Higgins to fire the hosts 3-0 ahead.
A spell of persistent Bath pressure followed, and Barkley quickly restored parity with a regulation penalty kick.
Bath's first points seemed to spring the home side into life, and Gloucester, cheered on by their vociferous Kingsholm crowd crossed the line for the only score on 33 minutes when Simpson-Daniel finished off a flowing move.
It was a stunning finish from the England hopeful as he cut off his wing through an array of challenges to cross the line and once more state his case for a regular run in the national side.
Barkley slotted over his second penalty of the afternoon shortly before half-time as Gloucester, perhaps fortunately, held a slender 8-6 lead going into the interval.
With news filtering through that Wasps had scored a bonus point try against Leeds, all of a sudden Bath where staring the possibility of an away play-off fixture straight in the face.
Moments later things went from bad to worse for the visitors as influential front rowers Matt Stevens and Lee Mears were forced off the field through injury within minutes of each other.
The absence of the star duo was taking its toll on Bath as Gloucester began to boss the line-outs and the visitors struggled to string together any penetrable attacks of note.
As end of season fatigue began to set into both camps in the dying stages, Gloucester continued their unbreakable defensive work and as the final whistle sounded the home fans cheered in exultation, while Bath are left with it all to do at Adams Park next weekend.