Proud of im­prove­ment de­spite de­feat in semi

Gloucestershire Echo - - DEACS WEEK -

THERE were re­mark­able sim­i­lar­i­ties in the two Premier­ship play­off matches last week­end. The two top dogs swat­ted aside third and fourth with big scores and showed just how far ahead they both are in win­ning big games.

Glouces­ter got off to a cracker with a try that would grace any team any­where in the world.

It could eas­ily have opened up the flood­gates against lesser teams, but Saracens are made of sterner stuff.

What hap­pened next, al­most im­me­di­ately in fact, was prob­a­bly the key to the ul­ti­mate re­sult. In­stead of sit­ting back and sulk­ing, Saracens ex­ploded into their own scor­ing rou­tine – and that, as they say, was that.

Glouces­ter must have been well pleased with the open­ing salvo, but when your best punch does not put the op­po­nent down you sub­con­sciously sus­pect that they are half tasty. And so it proved.

Glouces­ter showed signs of try­ing too hard at times and went chas­ing the game.

Against a well-struc­tured team like Saracens the end re­sult is al­most in­evitable and you run up drain­pipes that had never ex­isted be­fore and the struc­ture, pre­vi­ously strong, crum­bles.

There are those who strongly be­lieve that rugby is a run­ning and han­dling game. Up to a point this is an ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment, but it forgets the im­por­tance of kick­ing (and, by def­i­ni­tion, catch­ing).

The best teams tend to have the best kick­ers and this has been a tru­ism for as long as the game has been played. Saracens have de­vel­oped a set of strate­gies that suf­fo­cate and stran­gle op­po­nents and they have been work­ing at the sys­tem for many years.

But strate­gic kick­ing on its own is of lit­tle use un­less the whole team knows where the ball is go­ing – and there is a high percentage chance of the ball be­ing col­lected.

This is where Glouces­ter fell short as Saracens seemed to have a

sixth sense and a very high skill level in re­triev­ing the high ball.

Some of the bounces seemed to favour them, but they were on a dif­fer­ent level when the ball went to the heav­ens.

But all is not lost. The score was high, as it was against Northamp­ton, but both Exeter Chiefs and Saracens have been de­vel­op­ing their ba­sic game plan for some time.

Both Northamp­ton and Glouces­ter are re­ally just start­ing out on their jour­ney back to the top of the game.

Glouces­ter did lose heav­ily, but we have to be re­al­is­tic and see the wider pic­ture of vast im­prove­ment since Jo­han Ack­er­mann took over.

It is a tough league but the Cherry and Whites are get­ting there. We all wanted the team to do well in the semis but per­haps a vic­tory at Saracens was only a pipe dream.

Rugby is a harsh en­vi­ron­ment when a team is try­ing too hard. At times Glouces­ter seemed to be try­ing to force the tempo when all signs sug­gested that it was a hope­less task – and the home side was al­ways ready to pounce on any er­rors.

Just get­ting to this stage of the Premier­ship is a mas­sive plus.

Hope­fully the squad will not see things that way and they will set tar­gets for next sea­son that en­ables a bet­ter fin­ish with a place in the fi­nal.

How­ever, the com­pet­i­tive stan­dards keep on ris­ing and the bar is con­stantly go­ing up.

Who would have thought that New­cas­tle Fal­cons would be rel­e­gated? They al­ways looked too strong and they played an ex­cit­ing game – but still they took the dreaded fall.

Others who seemed more likely to drop emerged as big im­provers and Worces­ter can take great credit for what they achieved.

At the be­gin­ning of the sea­son they had to be most peo­ple’s best bet for the dreaded drop.

Glouces­ter ended up third in the Gal­lagher Premier­ship and we will see the best of Europe next sea­son.

The fi­nal re­sult was, of course, dis­ap­point­ing – but we can all be proud of the team’s per­for­mances and im­prove­ment.

Franco Mostert is held by Ge­orge Kruis and Owen Far­rell

»For­mer Glouces­ter and Eng­land A coach Keith Richard­son

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