The COVID-19 pandemic is seeing me going crazy with no sport to watch and it’s no shock to say that I have been missing watching my beloved Gloucester Rugby play.
It’s not been the best of seasons for the cherry and whites, who find themselves 9ᵗʰ in the Premiership table with just 4 wins from 13 games, however one bright spark has been the amount of international representation this season during both the World Cup and the Six Nations. Despite the bad results, I still feel that this is a very strong squad, but there have been issues with injuries and dips in form that have left them lacking wins.
For this article, I will be looking at the Gloucester squad and selecting my ideal matchday 23 if everyone was fully fit.
1: Val Rapava-Ruskin:- Injuries have been the big issue for the Georgian, but he is an incredible talent when physically fit. He can hold his own in the scrum, but comes to life at the breakdown, where he becomes like and extra back row with his ability to jackal and win a turnover.
2: Franco Marais:- So let me get the negative out of the way first: for a top flight hooker, he has been unreliable at the lineout this season. However, his impact on the match is largely positive, as he carries hard and tackles even harder. I could imagine him being used as an emergency 6 and being able to hold his own at the position.
3: Fraser Balmain:- With my decision to go for a player known more for their play in the loose than their scrummaging at loosehead, I have gone for a scrummaging specialist at tighthead. That’s not to say Balmain is a one-trick pony as he also carries very well to help create a platform for the backs.
4 & 5: Ed Slater & Franco Mostert:- Slater was very much missed earlier in the season but has largely put his injuries behind him since moving from Leicester and I would argue that he should have got closer to England recognition when you look at some of the players who have been called up ahead of him. He is a proven leader, a strong carrier and a key part of the lineout. World Cup winner Franco Mostert is also strong at the lineout but more than anything, he is an engine who will keep going all game and top the tackle charts with regularity. Slater and Mostert are arguably one of the strongest second row pairings in the league.
6: Freddie Clarke:- I was initially thinking of putting Clarke on the bench due to his versatility, but eventually decided that he had earned a starting spot and could switch positions mid-game if needed. Clarke is an underrated talent who does not get the respect that he deserves for his work around the park, while he is a strong carrier who can make a team pay if they give him a big enough gap.
7: Jake Polledri:- Anyone who regularly reads my articles will know that I am a big fan of Polledri and while I would not consider him an out-and-out jackal, he is probably the most successful over the breakdown of my back row selections. Where he really comes into his own is as a carrier, where he rarely fails to make ground, while he is another who can fully exploit a gap that opens in front of them.
8: Ruan Ackermann:- Ben Morgan has failed to live up to last year’s performances and at 31, he may now be reaching his decline. Instead, I have gone with Ruan Ackermann who has a wealth of top flight experience for someone who is only 24. Ackermann is another strong carrier who can make the hard yards and tackle all day long.
9: Willi Heinz:- I’ll be the first to say that I don’t think Heinz should be in the England 23 right now as Dan Robson and Ben Spencer are the 9s I think should be building with the squad in this cycle, but I think that the kiwi is a fantastic player. Years of playing for the Crusaders and Gloucester have made him a proven leader and he controls the game so well, including having a strong kicking game to help take pressure off the fly half.
10: Danny Cipriani:- He may not have reached the heights of last season, but let’s be honest: this team’s attack is built around Danny Cipriani. He is one of the most skilful playmakers I have ever seen, who reads the game so well and has the ability to pick out a man with a pin-point accurate pass or kick.
11: Ollie Thorley:- If you’ve never seen his try against Leicester, you need to watch it! That try highlights his pace and footwork, but strangely enough that’s probably the underrate side of his attacking game, as his strength and ability to break a tackle is what put him on most people’s radar. And at just 23, he will only get better!
12: Mark Atkinson:- He’s started to get the plaudits from some pundits, but I still think that Atkinson is one of the most underrated players in the league. He has always been a solid defender and a hard runner with a dangerous offload, but over the last couple of years, he has become even more of an all-rounder and even developed a decent kicking game to exploit the defence out wide.
13: Billy Twelvetrees:- While I think that Chris Harris has got better as the season has gone on and he built chemistry with the players around him, I still think that the way the teams plays benefits from having a second playmaker in the centre… and that man is Billy Twelvetrees. He has had his ups and downs at Gloucester but always puts in 100% and is one of the players who really appeared to have benefited most from Johan Ackermann taking over at Kingsholm.
14: Louis Rees-Zammit:- I’d heard of Rees-Zammit and his crazy speed from the Gloucester age groups, but going into this season, I wasn’t expecting to see him much at all for the seniors this season. However, he came in and shocked the world with 12 tries in 1074 minutes (a try every 89.5 minutes) including a hat-trick against Northampton, fully earning his spot on the wing ahead of his far more experienced teammates.
15: Jason Woodward:- This was a difficult pick for me and I must admit that I am a big fan of Woodward so may have a degree of bias. However the former Hurricane gets the nod for me here. He is such a dangerous player on the counter-attack and his ability to play fullback/wing/centre makes him dangerous coming into the line at any spot. I will however give this caveat: in terrible conditions that favour a kick-heavy territorial game, I go for the more positionally sound Tom Marshall.
16: Todd Gleave:- This may be a bit of a shock considering James Hanson is still on the roster, but he was not the most reliable at the lineout and has been out for a long time. Gleave may be on paper the 3ʳᵈ or 4ᵗʰ hooker on the depth chart if everyone is fit, but he has impressed me when given the chance, causing some issues for the opposition at the breakdown while also being a bit more reliable at the lineout.
17 & 18: Josh Hohneck & Jamal Ford-Robinson:- As I mentioned when looking at my starting props, I looked to pair one specialist scrummager with one who is a bit more of a open-play threat. While being a kiwi means that he is naturally skilled in the loose, Josh Hohneck will provide a stable scrum, while Ford-Robinson can hold his own at the scrum and then cause issues for tired defences with his carrying.
19: Gerbrandt Grobler:- Say what you want about whether Grobler should be allowed to play having tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 2014, but Grobler served his ban and has gone about reviving his career since. He would be a fantastic starter for Gloucester but unfortunately finds himself at the club at the same time as Slater and Mostert,but that allows for great rotation at lock. Grobler will carry and tackle all day long and is yet another fine lineout operator.
20: Lewis Ludlow:- With 3 ball carriers in my starting back row, I have gone for Ludlow over Morgan for the bench spot as he provides a different dynamic. Ludlow is another potential jackal but has an issue with giving away penalties at the breakdown this season, however his best season came a few years back where he was used primarily as a tackle machine, allowing other players to then get in over the top and make the turnover.
21: Joe Simpson:- I was a little nervous when it was announced that Joe Simpson would be coming to Kingsholm as I had always seen him as a pacy attacking 9, who was now getting on in age. However in the absence of Willi Heinz, he instantly proved his quality as a game manager and leader while still causing the opposition problems with his own legs.
22: Chris Harris:- Henry Trinder was a wonderful talent ruined by a litany of injuries, so Chris Harris gets the nod here, as Billy Twelvetrees can cover fly half. Harris provides a defensively solid, strong running option from the bench to create a solid centre pairing with either Atkinson or Twelvetrees.
23: Tom Marshall:- It’s probably no real surprise given I mentioned him as a possible starter at 15, but Tom Marshall gets the final spot here to cover the back 3. He is a fantastic attacking player and good in the air. I would feel sorry for a team that saw him coming on when they felt tired after 50-60 minutes.
Who would make your squad?
Until next time…