Gloucester bounce back with a redemption story
At the final whistle, the immediate reaction from Gloucester players and fans was a combination of jubilation and relief. There was almost a feeling that the side had snuck through to the final of a cup competition.
After succumbing to a 57-10 loss in last weekend’s fixture against Sale Sharks, this hard-fought 29-24 win over Northampton Saints, who had come into the fixture at the top of the Premiership table, is something of a redemption story.
Redemption it may be but Gloucester’s season so far has been one of frustration, starting brightly with a home win against defending champions Exeter Chiefs, but since then the only other win they could muster was at home to league strugglers Worcester Warriors.
It was a personal redemption story for Gloucester’s head coach Johan Ackermann that helped to inspire the squad after last weekend’s drubbing by Sale. Back when Ackerman, who himself had a spell playing for Northampton Saints, was playing for the now defunct Super Rugby side the Cats in 2001, they had suffered a heavy loss but came back from it.
“We played Super Rugby in 2001, I think against the Brumbies in Canberra and we got hammered 64-0 and I just spoke about that experience, about how you start doubting yourself, how you feel almost humiliated to look your supporters in the eye,” he said.
“Of course, that is not what any sportsman stands for and it was one of those games, the harder you try, the less things work, where every pass that you throw feels like it goes to them. I said to them that is the challenge every sportsman is going to get in life. It is how you collectively as a group believe that you can rectify it if you are halfway there. When you start pointing fingers you are on the wrong track.
“Credit to the players, they took every challenge that I threw at them and they responded brilliant.”
Keeping with the theme of redemption, outside centre Henry Trinder, the Cherry and Whites’ scorer of both of their first-half tries, is coming into flying form after a series of serious injuries. The 28-year-old was also a key player in Gloucester’s second half defensive effort.
Considering the current injury crisis in the Premiership, Trinder, who had been seen as an England contender but had to rebuild his career playing for Gloucester A earlier this season, provides hope in the current climate.
Ackermann said: “I had never worked with Henry until I got here or seen an awful lot of him. I just heard from the medics and the coaches that he was brilliant as a junior and then went through a bad spell through injuries. We lost Mark Atkinson and we lost Andy Simmons and Henry got the opportunity, he even played a game for the A side and he grabbed it with both hands.
“He showed some great skill today. So, hopefully he will just grow in confidence and use this as a stepping stone.”
Could his man-of-the-match performance be enough to catch the eye of Eddie Jones? “I don’t know the England players so well in the sense of who is No1 choice, who is second choice,” the South African insisted. “Consistency is what coaches look for.
“You need to back it, week after week, if you want to have any aspirations, and I am of the belief that your team comes first, and if Henry keeps on performing, it will just be a natural thing that people will start talking and that will open the door.”
While the first half was, in the words of Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, “an arm wrestle”, with Saints sole try of the opening 40 coming from blindside Jamie Gibson, the second half was more open with fly-half Harry Mallinder going over to score and convert his own try, only for Gloucester to reply quickly via a try from full-back Jason Woodward.
The hosts were at something of a disadvantage as fly-half Owen Williams had a poor day from the kicking tee.
A try from Billy Twelvetrees cemented Gloucester’s try bonus point, which saw Williams open his account for the afternoon.
After a Willi Heinz try and a second successful conversion from Williams, the hosts had pulled 12 points ahead with just 15 minutes left on the clock but, as was the rhythm for much of the second half, Northampton pulled back via a score from replacement hooker Mikey Haywood, with Stephen Myler adding the extras.
For the final 10 minutes Saints went on the march, and Gloucester’s response was heroic.
The next challenge for Gloucester is to aim to get a win on the road, starting with Thursday’s Challenge Cup fixture against Pau.
Power play: Willi Heinz runs past Northampton’s defence to score for Gloucester during their victory at the Kingsholm Stadium. It was a welcome result for Gloucester after last weekend’s loss to Sale Sharks