Chance to make history for club
THE Gallagher Premiership programme came to a dramatic close with Gloucester losing at Sale Sharks, in a 13-try thriller.
As predicted Johan Ackermann left most of the front line players out ahead of this week’s play off with Saracens.
The game at AJ Bell will be seen by most on the Gloucester camp as a moral victory, scoring six tries away from home against a Sale side that was well motivated with still an outside chance of European qualification.
With so many rested players there can be a tendency to produce a flat or disjointed performance, and of course defence coach Jonny Bell will be disappointed that Gloucester’s defence was so porous, with seven tries conceded.
That said Gloucester played as they have done all season - with enthusiasm, energy, mixed with some great skills.
It was good to see Lloyd Evans get a run out at fly half playing so well in a Gloucester first team shirt.
I had him at Cinderford as very young player, he looked intimidated at times in those early days, but you could see he had a decent skill set, and even at that young age he understood the game.
Most importantly he had a thirst to learn and improve, in the National One environment. This set him apart.
He has been in and around the Gloucester set up for some seasons and has been patient with limited first-team game time, but when called upon this season he has looked assured and not out of place playing at this level. Of course, training alongside Danny Cipriani will have helped him considerably feeding off his knowledge and experience of the game day in, day out.
When the season ends if he is now recognised as the Cherry & White number two fly half this will be a significant step forward for Lloyd and one, he can be proud of. All the attention will now swing to this Saturday with the much-anticipated playoff game against Saracens.
The selection will not spring too
As ever the back row in most rugby clubs is a very competitive area. Gloucester could pick two different back rows and still be confident of doing well.
The key backrow player that does stand out is Ben Morgan who I think has had his best season ever in the Cherry & White shirt.
He looks fitter, stronger, motivated, and very much an international player.
He has the power but also soft hands that can put his fellow players into space.
Morgan will be a crucial player in the Sarries game of course he will match up against one of the best number eights in the world, Billy Vunipola.
If Morgan and his back row mates of Ruan Ackermann and Jaco Kriel win that battle it will be pivotal for a Gloucester win.
The biggest area for me will be the Gloucester defence.
It must be watertight and any defence, of course, is helped with a high field position if the territory stats are weighed heavily in Gloucester’s favour.
This will go a long way to easing the stress on the defence.
Saracens at home or away are a very good side and will enjoy periods in the game when they will try to squeeze the life out of Gloucester.
If the men in Cherry & White can withstand this intense scrutiny on their defence they will have a chance to take the win.
You know Saracens will be brimming with confidence after being crowned European champions.
They will be rested and in good condition after the mammoth celebrations following their latest European victory. But this is knock out rugby. The Gloucester players will realise that Saracens are red hot favourites to win the game and move seamlessly into the grand final.
As a player I used to love this scenario: nothing to lose, everything thing to gain, us against them, 80 minutes of brutality play, playing right on the edge, be arrogant, but humble at the same time, concentrate on the game and nothing else, no distractions, no egos, fight for the club and for what it stands for.
That would be my message to the players if I were captain in the changing room just before we stepped out on the pitch.
As I type I can feel the excitement building within me.
That is what Johan Ackermann, his coaches, and players have created; the prize to play in the biggest game in English rugby - the Grand Final at Twickenham and a chance to make history for this group of players, and the club. Go well guys.
I hear there are a few busses travelling on Saturday.
But it is a great idea by Gloucester to open Kingsholm so that supporters who cannot make it to Saracens can come and sit on the pitch and watch the game on the big screens.
It be great for all and a great atmosphere.
Lloyd Evans is tackled by Faf de Klerk of Sale Sharks