Back in October, I had a look at how the season had started for Gloucester Rugby and the other #glawsfamily clubs: Hartpury RFC and Gloucester-Hartpury Women. Back then, Gloucester were a familiar story: 8th place in the league with a 100% winning record at home and 100% losing record away from home. Over the next few months however, the cherry and whites’ results improved and saw them break into the top 4, before a 25-15 loss at Worcester, 25-25 draw at home to Wasps and most recently this weekend’s 20-21 home loss to Newcastle have seen them drop to 6th, 4 points outside the playoffs.
Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed some negativity from fellow Gloucester fans on Twitter, and while I can understand fans’ disappointment, Gloucester are in a much better place than they have been in recent years.
Kingsholm is becoming a fortress again and though they may have dropped points in their last 2 home games, they were still the last team to lose their unbeaten home record in the Premiership this season. But for a couple of defensive lapses and missed kicks, both these matches could have been wins, and I would not compare the late try conceded against Wasps to the repeated late-match collapses of last season. Let’s not forget, Johan Ackermann only arrived from the Lions a couple of weeks before the season started following their run to the Super Rugby final, so imagine what this team will be able to do when they have a full offseason with him!
Ross Moriarty – a star of recent seasons – has barely featured, but with the form of Lewis Ludlow, Ruan Ackermann, Freddie Clarke and Jake Polledri (he needs to be playing for Italy!) he has not been missed as much as many fans would have feared. Polledri especially has been fantastic and I can not remember the last time I saw him pushed back in contact, while many teams have been caught out by his pace in open play. Lewis Ludlow on the opposite flank has been a tackling machine, while the second row is deeper than I can remember in years with Jeremy Thrush, Ed Slater, Tom Savage and Mariano Galarza and James Hanson has made an immediate impact at hooker, while Val Rapava-Ruskin will hope to put injuries behind him and show the quality Premiership fans have seen at Worcester.
In the backs, Willi Heinz and Ben Vellacott have both been great for Gloucester and their differing styles of play have created a great one-two punch at 9, while Billy Burns (who may have had a bad game off the tee against Newcastle but has been great all season) has really stepped up the the challenge set by the signing of Owen Williams and has earned the 10 shirt this season. Henry Trinder has stayed largely free of injury and has shown good consistency whether at 13 or on the wing, while the much-maligned Billy Twelvetrees appears to have his confidence back and is playing some of the best rugby I have seen from him in years. Moving on to the back 3 and Gloucester have not missed Jonny May as much as I feared, with Ollie Thorley, Henry Purdy, Trinder, David Halaifonua, Charlie Sharples, Tom Hudson, Tom Marshall and Jason Woodward all impressing at points in this season. Hudson runs such beautiful lines and looks to have reignited his career, while Woodward is something special and I would love to see Eddie Jones give him a chance in the England setup.
Yes it may be disappointing to see a couple of home games get away from the lads, but let’s not look at that in isolation and instead look at the season as a whole. In October’s piece I stated that as long as performances were improved I would be happy with finishing 6th/7th, especially when you consider they have not finished in the top half of the table since the 2012/13 season. If someone had told me back then that I would see my team in the top 4 for a couple of weeks this season, I’d have bitten their hand right off.
This is a minor rebuild under David Humphreys and Johan Ackermann, I truly think a top half finish is entirely possible this season. Next season? Well the future looks bright…