Foundations for success Now to take next steps
GLOUCESTER’S much improved 2018/19 season came to a sobering conclusion with the play off defeat against Saracens. Gloucester started in true Cherry & White style with a try full of flair, pace and vision.
The first 20 minutes was a very tight affair, but even in these early exchanges you could see how Saracens wanted to play the game, especially with the wind.
The Londoners’ kicking game was key to their victory; they are not afraid to kick to compete and the kicks stayed on the pitch with a very concentred chase and challenge in the air. You see this tactic often and one that is used in the international game frequently, but when you have two wings in Sean Maitland and Liam Williams who are excellent at winning the aerial battle, this tactic can pay off handsomely.
When possession is won from these accurate kicks, the Gloucester defence is then in scramble mode, which is not a great place to be when Saracens have so many attacking threats in their side. Many Gloucester supporters were questioning Luke Pearce, the referee, regarding the offside line, and the breakdown.
Yes, Saracens do play on the edge and they all buy into this hostile way of playing pressurising the opposition and the referee.
With so many of their players at the top of their game, internationals of the day, they are used to this pressure placed upon them; it brings out the best in them, they do not shrink. They fight so hard for every scrap of possession and when they have it they are such a potent threat. Like Exeter the other team in the premiership who dominate the league and the grand finals, they have a way of playing and they stick to it with a belief the sys
tem will bring them the victories, and for a high percentage of games this is the case.
The defence of Saracens is very stifling, coming off the line at great pace.
The key is they all do it together and at times it looks off side but the referee struggles to single out any one player.
If a player jumps out of the defensive line, this is then an easy decision to make for the referee but it’s rare.
Gloucester likes to play out the back, passing the ball behind the decoy runner; this has brought them so much success this season with Cipriani pulling the strings.
It’s a hard method of attack to stop, but Saracens did just that by not stopping on the decoy runner but accelerating to the attacker who stands in a deeper position thwarting the Gloucester attack.
This high pressure in your face method of defence attack spooked Gloucester and forced them into uncharacteristic forced passes that Saracens relished.
So where does this leave Gloucester? They will believe, as I do, that they have moved forward this season in the most competitive club rugby union league in the world, and in a season when the margin for error was very slim.
From a forecast fifth they finished in a respected third. Well done guys.
Any club having a bad month of results could see them very much at the wrong end of the table.
Look at Leicester Tigers, a giant of the English game, finishing one place off the bottom of the league.
Breaking the Saracens - Exeter cartel will have to be done in order to win the Premiership. Easier said than done.
David Humphreys and Johan Ackermann have put great foundations in place - the next step is to compete in Europe and the grand finals.
With a more stable squad in place and the commitment of Cipriani this will be a great asset to attract further world-class players.
The depth of the squad will be vital and help gain results when front line players are unavailable, but it will also push the playing group to improve.
In some games this season Gloucester has lost its shape and forced the odd pass or kick which has ended poorly.
The players must trust one another, and be trusted to all deliver that optimum level of performance every week, whatever the environment.
Challenges that all at Gloucester must grasp.
It has been a real pleasure to watch Gloucester this season.
The club has done the city proud and once again made us all be excited about top-flight rugby chances.
The club, management and supporters are full of optimism that we can compete at the top table of English rugby once again.
This was evident after the Saracens game when the Cherry & White supporters were in good voice and humour.
We have all so much to look forward to next season, not just at Gloucester Rugby but also the small matter of the World Cup.
I cannot wait. Thanks for all the feedback after reading my column online and in the papers; it is all very much appreciated. Enjoy the rugby break and have a great summer.
Willi Heinz clears the ball upfield against Saracens at Allianz Park
with Andy Deacon, former Gloucester prop and Cirencester director of rugby