Towards the end of my life as a teacher, being in charge of a bunch of kids – most of whom seemed to have deep-seated behavioural problems – with the weight of expectation that I would teach said kids all the important stuff that would get them through tests and exams, all became quite a stress in my life. It always started – the stress, that is – on Sunday afternoon when the realisation that all good things come to pass and that I shouldn’t have blinked on Friday night because the weekend just seemed to disappear. Sunday night was always the worst bit – I’d drink more than was good for anyone and I postponed and postponed going to bed in the knowledge that the sooner I went to sleep, the sooner I’d wake up and it would be Monday morning again.
Year nine were the worst. Years ten and eleven, you see, had GCHQs (or something) and with a following wind it was sometimes possible to convince them that a little bit of study might go a long way to converting them into normal human beings. Year seven were still in their nappies and I could usually survive by towering over them and snarling. Year eight hadn’t yet woken up to just how horrible it was possible for a 13-year-old to be and I wasn’t going to tell them, was I?
Year nine were always – year in, year out – the most unsavoury collection of unimaginable brutes imaginable. I always put on a brave face, of course – I’m a bloke, for crying out loud – but in my last term, I did not love the teaching profession very much and the teaching profession was pretty lukewarm about me. ‘Bit noisy in your class the other day,’ the head teacher would say in the corridor, en passant. ‘Buck up – got exams next year, don’t forget.’
As he walks through the gates of Kingsholm on a Monday morning our Nige must be feeling like I used to, so I sympathise. He’s bound to have a right assortment of pesky kids to deal with – goody goods doing their best, baddy-bads doing their worst and the I’ve-seen-it-all-befores who refuse to do bugger all – the likes of Billy Twelvetrees, Freddy Burns and Jimmy Cowan, in other words.
And then, in his lunch break when he’s trying to have a crafty fag behind the changing rooms, the headmaster will have a go at him as well: ‘Eh, Davies! About time they started playing like a team, isn’t it?’
‘Sorry, Mr Walkinshaw, sir. Don’t worry – I’ve got a plan.’
Then there’s the local and national press, TV pundits who are the most all-knowing superior buggers you’re ever likely to meet and I bet you anything Billy and Freddy’s mum is on the phone at every opportunity giving him jip. Heavens above, give me year nine any day.
Fair play, the match against Wasps was truly awful. Even my wife – she has never played the game in her life and only watches Gloucester because she fell in love with Terry Fanolua and still thinks he should be picked – even my wife looked at me after the match with pitying eyes. ‘You poor, poor bugger,’ she said, as if being a Gloucester supporter was akin to having some sort of terminal STD.
I couldn’t help feeling a terrible sympathy for the goody-goods in the team. I watched Billy 12Ts, Charlie Sharples and Rob Cook giving it their all and I could almost sense the terrible disappointment they felt as they looked around at their teammates, some of whom were probably surprised to be given the shirt in the first place, and all of whom were playing with about as much cohesion as a pantomime donkey. And I don’t know when you last saw a pantomime donkey but you can take it from me that the front end and the back end are not always pulling together.
I am not about to leap on the he’s-got-to-go bandwagon, but I don’t mind admitting that I was a bit shocked. The Wasps match was a winnable game, and with the loss, all sorts of financial advantage has gone up in smoke.
We share a love of rugby, our Nige and I, and we both played at quite a high standard: he for Wales; I for Cainscross first XV. Up until recently I would have said that we also shared a love of rugby at Gloucester but I’m not sure that’s the case at the moment. I don’t know why things aren’t clicking but with the best will in the world, things aren’t clicking, and, as far as can see, haven’t been clicking since the end of last season.
Whichever way you look at it, beating those pesky injuns was a great result. Four premiership points are worth their weight in gold and they actually give this season some meaning: seventh position in the premiership, as I understand it, would give us a shot at European Rugby next season. All sorts of permutations are still possible and we can now view our remaining matches as much more than just a long warm-up to the next.
So that’s all good, then. A win, as they say, is a win.
Listening to the match on Saturday was a nerve-wracking experience. To be honest I wasn’t listening to it at all – if I can’t physically be at a match, I relish the running commentary from the posters on Shedweb. But Shedweb crashed (again) at a very vital moment and I think the last posting before the ‘database error’ message appeared was: ‘Times up (sic) and we are down to 13 men, scrum down on our line’.
What a time to crash! So I feverishly turned to the BBC rugby results page and went through agony waiting for the page to refresh every two minutes. Nail biting, or what!
Anyway, all’s well that ends well – Exeter’s the last-gasp kick to win the match didn’t happen and Gloucester drove back up the M5 with a comfortable one-point thrashing under their belts.
But I was reminded of the Fans Forum back in February (or whenever it was) when our Nige was banging on about the matches that had been lost by just a few miserly points. His point being that the importance of a good goal kicker cannot be underestimated and that a decent goal kicker was therefore his priority in his world-wide search for new recruits.
Now, looking back at the (too) many matches we’ve played and lost this season, the fact that we’ve missed 50% of our shots at goal (I made that up, but it can’t be too far off the mark) has been a telling statistic over the course of the season. Against Exeter we kicked 60% which meant we could never pull away which meant they had the opportunity to win the match at the end.
If we’d had an 80% success rate over the course of this season, just how different would our position be?
The importance of our Nige’s words were for all to see last Saturday at Sandy Park. For the sake of a good kicker, and despite all the good work during the match – they tackled their cotton socks off – winning the blessed game was not, at the death, anything we had control over. With their final kick of the match, the game was Exeter’s to win or lose.
Fortunately for us, they lost it.
In the week leading up to the Exeter match we were treated to a carefully orchestrated roll-out of new signings and we got a week’s worth of new faces – one a day, to be precise.
Monday’s child is fair of face: Aled Thomas is a good looker, all right, and a bit of a sevens expert. He’s from Wales – the clue is in the name – and will be slotting into the squad as fly half either as first choice or, I suppose, as back up to Greig Laidlaw or someone. Or something.
Tuesday’s child is full of grace: I don’t know about grace but Mark Atkinson is a big guy with, we are told, a fine off-loading game, and is destined to bolster the midfield. In his time with Bedford Blues, he’s been getting a bit of a name for himself as something special. I always look forward to something special.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe: our Nige has certainly been busy across the border and Tom Isaacs , a ‘strong running’ scrum-half-turned-centre seems to have impressed. I’m really pleased to hear that he’s strong and that he can run and I’m sure that all the woe emanating from this guy will be felt by the opposition.
Thursday’s child has far to go: well, Stevie McColl, a Scot from Leeds, will be making the long journey from up north, so there is a bit of travelling involved. This guy is a specialist full back so Rob Cook will at last be able to take a breather every now and then.
Friday’s child is loving and giving: How, therefore, can we not love Tom Palmer. He’ll be bringing shed-loads of experience to Gloucester and the club will benefit from and enjoy this second-row forward. No doubt about that, and I’m confident he’ll soon be a Kingsholm favourite.
I wonder if that concludes the business that our Nige has been doing since the mid-term report. Only time will tell, I suppose.
You know when you go to a fancy Italian restaurant and the waiter asks you if you want some pepper with your pasta and you say okay? He disappears for a while, reappearing a few minutes later, toting a mother of a pepper mill which he heaves into a position above your plate and with the greatest of effort he grinds and he grinds and your plate is suddenly covered in a layer of black grit and he says ‘Prego,’ or something.
Well, that’s what it feels like in Gloucester at the moment. We, the loyal fans, are the spaghetti all’aglio, olio e pepperoncino and the blooming pepper-cum-rumour mill hanging over our heads is churning out too much tittle-tattle for us to handle.
Over-peppered, I am, and a bit confused.
Is Laidlaw our number one number nine, or our number two number ten?
Who-the-Barry-John is Aled Thomas when he’s at home and is he our number one number ten or our number two number fifteen? And when did he stop singing castrato, or is that someone else?
Did Danny Cipriani take the wrong train after a good night out and just accidently end up at Hartbury last week? Or is he going to be our number one pain in the neck, next season?
Have Saracens pinched Jim I-left-my-heart-in-Castle-Grim Hamilton or are we not that lucky?
Is our Nige about to be shown the revolving door as Gary Glitter … Gold, I mean, Gold … enters by the back entrance?
And what the hell we’d want with Dean Richards, is anybody’s guess.
See what I mean? It’s all too much.
And I haven’t even touched on the punch-up gossip. It’s a blooming war zone in Kingsholm, at the moment, and you walk the dark corridors at your peril, it seems. You might be able to avoid being drawn into the three-way skirmish between major Burns, minor Burns and our Nige, but you can bet your bottom thruppenny bit that Moriarty senior will be lurking in the shadows somewhere, ready to duff you up.
So I thought a couple of pre-match pints in Teague’s would be just the ticket. I’d be sure to find some fellow Shedheads and we’d cry on each other’s shoulders and swap stories of the good old days of when men were men, women were happy and Gloucester Rugby shirts were hooped. The perfect antidote to over-peppered pasta, I thought.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to Teague’s but I can highly recommend it. It’s a pretty down to earth sort of place – spittoon in the corner, that sort of thing – but if you fight your way through to the back you’ll find a miniature Shed, which is called, unsurprisingly, The Shed Bar. Then, if you go outside for a gasper, there’s a little rugby pitch in the garden – posts and all (well, one set, anyway).
I reckon this Teague bloke played a bit of rugby in his time.
As have the Shedheads I met, I can tell you. What they don’t know about the game hasn’t yet been dreamt of and for an hour before the match I basked in the glow of their collective intellect.
There’s RTS2 for starters. Not what I expected at all. His 2000-word postings have attracted some negative attention in the past and so I expected to meet someone who had an opinion on everyone and his wife and – even worse – wanted to tell me about it. Well, far from it. RTS2 is passionate about Gloucester Rugby – I suppose we all are in our way – and he politely welcomes discussion and listens to what people say. In real life, he’s not a 2000-word talker at all, he’s a 2000-word listener.
Then there’s Chris from Spain. For some reason, when he told me he was ‘Chris from Spain’ I asked him where he came from (I know, I know) and he gave me a bit of a withering look that said ‘Verdad?’ He’s not often in the country, he told me, and so I was really lucky to meet him. Very friendly, too, because when I suggested that I and my four mates came calling when we hit the cerverzas in Malaga next month, he offered to put us all up. (Hope all is well with your dad, Chris.)
Baz is exactly what I expected. He’s a big man but there’s a quietness about him that belies his knowledge of rugby in general, and Gloucester in particular. This guy is a legend, but I got the impression he’s a man who doesn’t suffer fools and is not to be messed with. So I didn’t.
Oxford Glaws was there (I’d learnt my lesson so I didn’t ask where he was from) and his mate Sid was from the Forest of Dean. Now there’s a contrast: OG is friendly, polite and articulate; Sid, on the other hand, is equally friendly and blooming good fun, but quite plainly off his rocker. I had a very interesting discussion with young Sid on the benefits of in-breeding in the Forest and he was most insistent that I’d be very welcome if I chose to move to that part of the world – something I can’t see myself doing any time soon.
And the Newcastle game?
What can I say. It’s not often I get to see ten tries in a match and even less often I wish I hadn’t. Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous.
We were cruising disdainfully through the gears – one-try, two-tries, three-tries, four-tries, five-tries – and opening up a thirty-point chasm that was almost embarrassing, when old Dean I’ve-done-my-time Richards sent on this little boy to play at fly half. Well, there I was thinking he was just the guy bringing on the blood capsules and next thing I know – I must have blinked or something – this young kid – Joel Billy-Whizz Hodgson, he’s called – had orchestrated a five-try comeback and was kicking the ball over the posts to claim the losing bonus points as well.
I ask you – is there anything more exhausting than supporting Gloucester at the moment?
The last time I wrote this blog, Gloucester Rugby had just been unceremoniously brought down to mother Earth with a big bump: a 39–13 thrashing by Northampton. All those dark he’s-got-to-go mutterings were given new impetus and the only fun in our lives at the moment is the gossip and rumour mongering of who’s coming and who’s going. We’re pretty desperate here in Gloucester – desperate to find a silver lining that might compensate for that mother of a black cloud that we refer to as the 2013–14 season.
Jam tomorrow is all we have to ease the pain.
As I predicted … Sorry… As was predicted by people a lot smarter than me, we’ve said hello to Greig Laidlaw, that well known Scottish fly half who is being brought in to fill the vacuum left by the departing Burns, Mills, Taylor and (I think) Bentley. Although he’s not, to be fair. He’s not a fly half at all, really. He’s a scrum half. And instead of hats being thrown into the air and woohoos of joy and happiness, there were many amongst us more inclined to a grumpy, ‘Is that it?’
And so I ask the question: is Greig Laidlaw the Great White Hope of Gloucester Rugby?
For me, signing a nine who plays a bit at ten, to fill the gap at ten doesn’t quite hit the spot. For starters, our present nine also plays a bit at ten and you wonder how that’ll pan out. Will they take it in turns? Will they toss for it? Or arm-wrestle, with the loser getting the ten position?
But what really gets me about this is that it smacks of a compromise. And a compromise smacks of settling for something we didn’t really want in the first place. And settling for something we didn’t really want in the first place smacks of panic. We were told that we were looking for a ten with 1) an eighty per cent kicking success rate, and 2) a leader. Indeed, with fanfare and trumpets, Gloucester Rugby announced just that: Laidlaw has, it told us ‘considerable game management skills, accurate goal kicking record and character’.
Many would call me a gloomy old pedant but I must emphasise that Laidlaw is not primarily a fly half. He is a part-timer, and surely, we didn’t search high and low for a scrum half who could play a bit at fly half. No, what we wanted was a fly half who could play a lot at fly half. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one and so we’re making do with young Laidlaw. (Young compared to me, of course – at 28 he’s not particularly young in rugby terms.)
Perhaps – you never know – Gloucester Rugby has something up its sleeve and the really big jam announcement is still to come, but I’m not holding my breath.
While we’ve had three weeks without rugby at Kingsholm, we’ve had to make do with England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales strutting their stuff. And as a useful diversion, we’ve had three cherry and whites in white only. Three out of fifteen starters for England – that’s one fifth, if you’re struggling – from a close-to-the-bottom club. That must be something to woohoo about.
Billy Twelvetrees must now be one of the first on the team sheet these days – he does everything right. He makes those inside him and outside him look good, he’s solid in defence and his pass is a thing of beauty. This guy is a Gloucester Legend in the making.
Ben Morgan rolled up his sleeves and shined while Vunipola was sidelined. He was excellent going forward and is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know whether you follow the wise words of Dean Ryan (he writes for the Guardian) but he was saying (if I understood correctly) that our Ben is all right if he gets the ball on the move, but if he gets the ball standing still he’s ineffective. Or something. Evidently, it’s all to do with the fact that when Gloucester first had him he was a winger and Gloucester didn’t like him as a winger and sent him packing.
No, I didn’t understand it, either.
There is no doubt about it, Jonny May has huge potential. He is one of the most exciting wingers around at the moment but someone has got to start coaching him, or he’ll drown in his own indecision. There was a time not so long back when he was the golden boy of the Gloucester back line and supporters would turn up carrying ‘Give it to Jonny’ placards and every time he got the ball there would be a clamour of excitement and expectation. And the harder it got to score those give-it-to-Jonny’ tries – we’ve had a difficult season – the more he would manufacture a path to the try line – and this usually involves running backwards and around the opposition. Saturday’s was a classic: I swear for about five metres he was sprinting, at breakneck speed, towards his own try line. And this was followed by an equally desperate thirty-yard sideways sprint across the pitch where – to nobody’s great surprise – he was tackled.
I think his problems started in the very first match against France, when he butchered that scoring opportunity, attempting to ground the ball with one hand. If he had scored that try, things might have been different. As it was, however, he was largely ignored by his England teammates.
And the lesson to be learnt? Don’t butcher tries.
In our heart of hearts, no one from this part of the world expected to walk away from Franklin Gardens with a win to our name. No, that was the stuff of dreams and fantasy.
There was revenge in the air, for starters. Very few who witnessed last September’s fixture will ever forget the magical last-minute Northampton try and Gloucester’s referee-assisted, Houdini-esque, last-gasp win. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, of course, but if you’re a Saint you’ve got a long memory – Northampton wanted this one very badly. And let’s not forget that Northampton are currently the premiership leaders and … err … well, we’re not.
No, we couldn’t possibly win this one … could we?
And yet we had our gander up (whatever that means). The previous week, you see, we’d done okay and beaten Harlequins and there had been whisperings on Westgate Street that we’d turned the corner and at last it was all going to come good. Top six be buggered, we were heading for the play-offs. In the space of eighty minutes, the sun had come out in Gloucester and we had become world beaters. Move aside you No Hopers – we’re on a roll. (We have rather witty names for all our rivals: the Not-Nots for example are London Irish because they’re not Irish and they’re not from London; Wasps are known to us as the Pests; and Northampton are NoHopeton. Ha, ha – all very droll, I’m sure you’ll agree.)
And then there was the referee – and it’s probably best not to mention names here – but I don’t think he had his best match. Call me naïve if you want, but I was sort of expecting that the referee would have half an idea on the laws and procedures of the game. I was quite surprised, as you can imagine, to discover that the guy with the whistle was just that: some guy with a whistle.
I could list all the wrong calls he made but in all honesty his performance had not the slightest bearing on the result. Call me naïve if you want, but I was sort of expecting that the boys in cherry and white – or some of them, at least – would have a bit more get-up-and-go in them. I was quite surprised when it turned out the boys in cherry and white were just that: boys in cherry and white.
I find the lack of intensity to be the most worrying aspect of Gloucester’s performance and it has been a theme that has run throughout the season.
In the previous evening’s match I’d had the pleasure of watching Bath play Saracens and you can say what you like about Jaques Burger – although I don’t suggest you say it to his face – but I could do with injecting a little of what he’s got into the backsides of a few of the Gloucester players.
And I’ll say the same about Northampton’s Calum Clark. In the second half, when the Saints woke up and realised they were playing a team from the nether regions of the league, the sheer intensity of Clark was a joy to behold … well, I suppose if this guy is bearing down on you, snarling that he’s going to rip your head off and then break your arms, then joy is perhaps the wrong word, but to the casual observer, it is a wonderful sight … in a Romans-at-the-Coliseum sort of way.
Is it possible to coach passion? If anyone can, surely a Welshman can. They’re full of the stuff. Our Nige is clearly aware of the situation because after every match he talks about our inability to impose ourselves on the opposition. ‘Impose’! That’s not a very passionate word! What we want – okay, what I want – is our Nige to tell his players that unless they get out there and knock seven shades of Hades out of the opposition, pausing only to pick them up by the testicles and swing them into touch, then they can blooming well sing for their half-time quarter of orange.
It’s not rocket science, this coaching malarky.
I always enjoy reading the match reports on the official Gloucester Rugby website. This is writing at its best and I can’t imagine the agonies this guy (or gal, of course) goes through week-in, week-out. With his editor’s instructions ringing in his ears – ‘for crying out loud, make it sound like they’re quite good’ the poor hack unfailingly produces some wonderfully inventive prose:
‘Gloucester gave it everything at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday afternoon … ’
That’s a cracker, for starters.
‘In truth it was a scrappy old encounter … there was little to choose between the two sides.’
Yeah, right. Except for twenty six points, of course.
‘Gloucester had fronted up manfully for an hour or so.’
Even if that’s true, what did they do for the other twenty minutes. Or so.
‘Calum Clark finally wriggled out of a tackle to score.’
A classic. For ‘finally wriggled out of a tackle’ read ‘powered off the back of a rolling maul and crashed through his opposite number as if said opposite number was a wet paper bag’.
That’s the way to write ’em.
I don’t know how long you lot can hold your breath but down here in Gloucester we can do it for ages and ages. We’ve had plenty of practice, you see. There was a sharp intake of breath when our Nige sat down after his mid-term review and told us things hadn’t been going so well and that there would be changes – sweeping changes across the board – and we’ve been holding it ever since, waiting for the big announcements.
Couple that with the facts that (1) our young prodigy at fly half was becoming slightly less prodigious and has found pastures new where he could freshen up and develop into the star we all thought he was, (2) our back-ups, in the shapes of Bentley and Taylor, are crocked (I’ve rather forgotten what they look like, to be honest) and (3) our stand-in, the mercurial Ryan Mills, has been tempted away by Dean ‘call me Banquo’ Ryan, and you’ve got the whole of Gloucester playing Guess Who’s Coming to Town (very difficult when you’re holding your breath) Is it Botica, or Cipriani or Laidlaw or indeed all of ’em.
I’m just praying it ain’t the Cips. (ABC as I call it – anyone but Cipriani.) Apart from all the baggage that comes with this young man (and it’s not just a suitcase of it, either. It’s trunks and trunks of chip-on-shoulder, celebrity-chasing, nightclub-boozing baggage – and it’ll arrive a couple of weeks after he arrives, you watch) I’ve never really taken to his receive-the-ball-and-crab-across-the-field style of play. It’s just too … well, crab-like for my taste.
He’s doing a fine job up north so let’s hope he stays put.
I’m told that all the good money is on Greig Laidlaw joining us and that puts me in a terrible quandary. You can call me a boring old misanthrope but I’ve never really approved of those clever jonnies who reckon they can play scrum half and fly half. A bit cocky, don’t you think? Two very different positions requiring two very different skill sets and young Greig figures he’s got the lot. We’ll be the judge of that, young man.
Anyway, we’ve got a scrum half – Dan Robson – so what we need is an understudy; a promising youngster who’ll learn on the job. If Laidlaw does cross the border let’s hope it’s with ‘10’ stitched to his back and not ‘9 but I’ll do 10 if you want’.
I don’t know whether or not you noticed but Gloucester won a home match last weekend. No, I’m serious – things are really changing and the mood is lifting. We beat the multi-coloured Quins with consummate ease (ahem) and, as our Nige noted in his post-match smug-fest – can you blame the guy – we were the ones playing the rugby, for the most part.
The fact that we didn’t win by a larger margin was a bit disappointing but, come on(!), as soon as we’ve relearnt a few of the basic skills of straight running and scrummaging there’ll be no stopping us and we’ll be getting all cocky again. And you’d better watch out because we’re pretty unbearable when we’re cocky.
Talking of butchering chances I notice that Give-it-to-Jonny did his fair share of slaughtering at Twickers. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – I’m a bit of a fan on the quiet. He’s still young and when he matures up a bit and gains a bit of self assurance he’ll be a full-time rugby magician.
He does make me smile, though, when he starts running backwards in search of open space and I can hardly contain myself when all his team-mates start jumping for cover, with surprised where-the-hell-are-you-going? looks all over their faces. It’s interesting that this run-the-wrong-way tactic of his is when he’s at his most dangerous – dangerous for both teams, I mean. He either finds the gap and streaks to the line for a give-it-to-Jonny special or, as happened last weekend, he’s tackled as he runs the wrong way and with all the momentum going towards his own try line, he turns the ball over.
Looks like Benjamin the Tank Engine will be starting next time against Wales. With poor old Billy Vunipola injured our own Ben Morgan will get the starting nod. He played well again against Scotland and Ireland and it’ll be interesting to see him start.
Ben Morgan is a big guy and he fits the job description of the modern number eight. I suppose that’s fair enough in these days of wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am rugby. The forwards – all one to eight of them – have got to punch holes in defences and in that respect both he and Billy Vunipola fit the bill.
I remember in my day – here we go again! – whenever I was allowed to escape the ear-grinding pain and unpleasantness of the second row, I used to relish playing number eight. These days, my 12 stone 2 pounds would be small even by diminutive scrum-half standards (fair play, even in them days I was a bit of a light weight) and punching holes in anything, let alone opposition flankers bristling with joie de tuer, was not on the menu. So I’d blooming well evade them all with some pretty nifty footwork, sleight of hand and the occasional dummy.
Oh yes – them were the days. If Ben Morgan were to show off some nifty footwork (or try to) I have a feeling he’d crash to floor, wishing he’d stuck to the tried and tested bulldozer approach to life.
There ain’t much finesse to being a forward these days.
What a great idea: a face-to-face forum for fans – an opportunity to give the management team a bit of a going-over with pertinent and hard-hitting questions. Trouble is, there was so much I wanted to ask and so my one question would have to be a cracker.
Yes, that’s the baby. I would stare at them, unflinchingly: ‘Pick the bones out of that,’ My eyes would say.
I never got to ask it, of course – I couldn’t quite muster the courage – but I got the feeling Nigel Davies, Ryan Walkinshaw, Stephen Vaughn and Paddy Anson were more than happy to discuss the season, warts and all, in as much detail as we wanted.
Paddy Anson is our fitness and conditioning supremo and he talked very confidently, explaining the wizzy things he does with the electronic gadgetry that all rugby players get harnessed to – there is no hiding place for the professional rugby player, these days.
He conceded that, although he has all the hard data regarding every ounce of energy the team is expending during a match, substitutions are always the coach’s call. His job is more about preparation for the match and analysis after it. The coach knows best, he says. He even admitted that he would always take a good losing performance over an ugly win.
He might be on his own there.
Interestingly, he pinched a question that should have been aimed at Nigel: ‘Mine!’ he shouted as the question floated towards the foursome. ‘Why did the forwards walk to the lineouts?’ ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘To get the call right – not because they are tired.’
Trouble is, I don’t think anyone in the room was suggesting that he’d done such a bad job that our cherry and white heroes are too knackered to get quickly to the lineouts. It’s just that your average supporter wants the forwards to march up to their positions snarling and slavering. The ponderous Sunday afternoon slouch sends all the wrong signals. What happens is this:
Ball kicked into touch. Our lineout. Forwards meander to the position indicated by the touch judge (or whatever politically correct name he’s called now … or she, of course). Five yards out, said forwards huddle together, form a committee and appoint a spokesperson, and decide the call. After all objections and any other business have been settled they unhurriedly make their way to the lineout position, by which time, the opposing team are growing impatient and making get-a-bloody-move-on comments to the referee.
Now, I can almost understand the huddle – you’ve got to be clear about the call, after all. But why, in the name of Castle Grim do we have to meander, oh so slowly, up to the mark? Are we hoping, perhaps, the opposition forwards will give up the will to live … or what?
So that was one question not answered.
The big suit was there, of course. Stephen Vaughan spoke with great passion about his club and explained some of the recent decisions. I mentioned to him that I didn’t think there was enough information coming out of the club – the upshot being that gloomy old gits like myself get it all wrong – and there was, he said, a very fine line to be trodden between telling people everything and telling people nothing. He had, evidently, tightened up on what he allowed to emanate from the club because previously Toms, Dicks and Harrys were leaking information willy-nilly; careless talk cost lives and all that.
Well that’s all very well, but the paradox is as follows: CEO, Director of Rugby, Club Chairman and Head of Strength and Conditioning all appeared on this public forum to talk openly, honestly and publically – obviously – about the present dire situation. My question , therefore, is this: if four club big-nobs can talk so informatively in a forum of this nature, why can’t press releases be equally as open. Give the fans as much you can, without compromising anything too delicate, I say.
And our Nige was able to explain a couple of situations that had previously left supporters and grumpy old gits like me scratching our heads and coming to the wrong conclusions.
Akapusi Qera, our he informed us, threw his toys out of the pram – despite the club bending over backwards to accommodate. There were all sorts of legal and insurance reasons why he could not be allowed to play in that extra, unscheduled match for Fiji.
He also emphasised that the club didn’t ‘let Ryan Mills go’. He was seduced away by a promise of big bucks – well, bigger bucks than Gloucester was prepared to offer, anyway. The club weighed up the pros – his undoubted talent – against the cons – his history of injury – and came up with a realistic offer. The silver-tongued Dean Ryan was not so circumspect.
It’s either the lovely Welsh lilt or I’m going soft in my old age because I really enjoyed listening to our Nige – it seemed to come from the heart. I reckon this bloke cares. He admitted mistakes – naivety was one, for starters – and he’s promised change across the board. The team, he assured us, will be better next year.
The dapper Ryan Walkinshaw was there, of course, waxing lyrical about his countless business interests and, he looked our Nige straight in the eyes and threw down the gauntlet: top four next year, Nige, he said. Or else.
As promised, I cracked open a bottle of Moet et Chandon following the loss at Leicester. A losing bonus point and we’re all happy … aren’t we?
Well, no, actually. It’s all very well writing off the season and putting all your jam in next year’s basket, but what we might have achieved last Sunday with a half-decent pack is only to be dreamed about. There was barely a completed scrum and those that were incomplete – there were many – ended with a penalty or free kick against us. Leicester weren’t great and we were the better team I thought. At least our backs, with the Warrior-elect Ryan Mills in the ten position (ho-hum), are beginning to run straight and – dare I say it – threatening lines.
We could have, should have, would have, blooming well ought t’have won that bugger.
I’ve had my knuckles rapped. Big time.
I am, it seems, too negative and the last thing the club needs right now, I’m told, is a weekly blog full of what-the-the-hell’s-going-on questions. What we need, Ed, said the knuckle rapper, is more positivity: build the club up a bit, he droned.
Chastised, I am, chastised.
I tried to explain to him – the knuckle-rapper, that is – that every week as I wander the streets of our fair city dreaming of the halcyon pre-professional days before I became all cynical, I rack my brains for the positive slant. You know, that subtle blend of words that’ll refer to the little issues we have in an understated manner while at the same time bigging up the good stuff. That, I’m told, is what any decent supporter-cum-rugby writer would do. But then, at the end of the day when I plonk myself down in front of my keyboard, it all comes out: all those taboo, what-the-the-hell’s-going-on questions.
And I can just hear the knuckle-rapper: ‘Call yourself a supporter, Ed? Call yourself a writer?’
Anyway, with another loss at Sale, my gloom hasn’t lifted much and I challenge any glass-half-full-happy-clapping-pill-pushing Gloucester supporter to put a positive spin on life at the moment. There was, I suppose, a half-decent fight back at the end to bring home the bacon –aka the losing bonus point – so what more can a Gloucester Rugby follower expect these days. We are, after all, a foot-of-the-table team and we’ll be happy with whatever points we can muster, thank you very much. Next up, Leicester away, and if we manage an LBP there I’ll really be cracking open the champers.
Still we’ve got the new team to look forward to, haven’t we? That’ll be the team that the powers-that-be have, all of a sudden, decided to buy. We’ve already got half a scrum contracted to run out at Kingsholm next season and we’re all waiting – with baited breath, I can tell you – for further announcements regarding the rest of the replacement XV.
I find it peculiar – but in a very positive way, obviously – that at the beginning of the season we were going to hit the ground running and, more importantly, we had all the right personnel in place bristling with get-up-and-go and joie de jouer who were going to take the Aviva Premiership by storm.
Hit the ground running? We haven’t landed yet. Now, half way through the season, we’re scratching around for LBPs and sending money-bags Walkinshaw out into the world with instructions that he shouldn’t return unless he’s bought a replacement quick-fix team crammed with Tongans, All Blacks, South Africans, Argentines and the odd Welshman (no comment).
What sort of message is that sending out to the present incumbents?
And talking of present incumbents – what a storming match Jonny May had up at Murrayfield . I was shouting ‘Give it to Jonny’ through much of the first half and luckily in the second, they did. With the ridiculous, gob-smackingly vacuous words of Austin Healey a distant memory (‘And in May’s case, if he gets a whack on the nose, he needs to brave it out and stay on the field … maybe he was told he had to come off – but whatever happened on the sidelines May should have stayed on the field’), May stuck two very figurative fingers up and said ya boo sucks.
Nice one Jonny.
Plenty of good news this week – a win against Wasps, all those England call-ups – but the announcement that we are losing Tavis Knoyle, Ryan Mills and Matt Cox left me a-gnashing and a-wailing. Three of the brightest sparks of the club, one of whom has only just arrived, and we’re saying au revoir. For the love of all that is saintly and good in Gloucester Town – not much, I grant you – what the blooming hell is going on?
The situation now at Gloucester Rugby is that we have no obvious number ten, one number nine (okay, two if you count the soon-to-be-departing All Grump, Jimmy Cowan) and just three centres in Tindall, Twelvetrees and Trinder. Minor Burns could, I suppose, step up from the junior ranks to cover the fly-half position and you never know, Tim Taylor might rise from the metaphorical dead and amaze us all … but that particular scenario is about as likely as Worcester Warriors staying in the premiership.
Talking of which, I am slightly bemused that a player of the calibre of Ryan Mills has decided to join the walking dead up the M5. Let us not forget that one, Ryan Mills is (or was) destined for great things and two, Worcester Rugby Club isn’t. Not in the foreseeable future anyway. They are doomed, I tell you, doomed. And once you’re down there – in the championship, that is – it’s never that easy to claw yourself back up. Just ask Leeds Carnegie. The ridiculous money-spinning play-off system that has been introduced to decide the league competition reduces the whole season’s endeavour to a ridiculous two-match lottery. A system, methinks, designed to bring extra coffers to the clubs and to the RFU and has nothing to do with fairness in the promotion and relegation procedures.
It matters not a jot that Dean Ryan hasn’t darkened the gates at Kingsholm for four and a half years, like the ghost of Banquo, we just can’t seem to get rid of the meddling devil but what can possibly be the attraction to Ryan Mills of a season – at least a season – in the championship?
Money, I suppose, is the simple answer. Money, eh? Don’t you just love the way it contorts and twists the things you hold dear.
He has, evidently, listened to what the silver-tongued Dean Ryan has had to say and has given it his stamp of approval. Furthermore, he wants to be repatriated into the coaching arms of the ex-Gloucester Ryan–Hogg combination. On the face of it, very laudable, but I just don’t understand it.
And that seems to be the case with Worcester generally. Fans, management and owner – they all seem to be convinced by the Dean Ryan philosophy of pain today and jam tomorrow. Only time will tell, I suppose, but Worcester Warriors seem to be steaming into the iceberg with amazing equanimity.
Still, that’s their problem and not for this blog. Good luck to them, I say. I’m just a little miffed – Ryan Mills is an outstanding talent and home bred, to boot, and we should be hanging on to him for dear life.
What bothers me is that down here in Gloucester – shoot me down, I dare you– that we’re in panic mode and we’ve changed our thinking somewhat. No matter the fine words that we are nurturing local talent, and building a local club – we are, it seems, going the cheque-book route and we’re currently in the market, looking for commodities. We’ve already bought a complete front row and an Argentine lock; now we need a back line.
The rumour mill has it that there could be ten to fifteen players joining Gloucester Rugby for next season and while that’s all fine and dandy from a wow-that’s-exciting point of view, I’m not sure it’s any good for the development of the club either in terms of local talent or in terms of its long-term success.
And I’m pretty sure that if you’d asked Ryan Walkinshaw (we’re knee-deep in Ryans down here in the west country) six months ago whether we’d be this busy-bee active in the transfer market at this particular time in the season, he’d have reeled more fine words about wanting to be a club with local traditions and how remaining competitive was desirable, but remaining profitable was essential.
Will this new tack bring home the bacon, I ask? The proof of the pudding – as they say – will be in the eating.
Bacon pudding, anyone?
You wait blooming months for a statement from the CEO and then, would you believe it, two come along at once. I think he must like the attention I gave him last week when he emerged from the parapets and told us about this and that. In his latest interview he explains that he’s full of praise for the quality of the support the team gets and he’s just letting us know how much he appreciates us. Isn’t that sweet? We love you too, Stephen.
“Generally, Gloucester Rugby fans are very understanding, very intelligent and if we give 100 per cent, and have the intensity and passion they will support us through thick and thin.”
You should know by now, Stephen, that Gloucester fans are in it for the long haul and no matter how dense the thick is, or how skinny the thin is, we’ll be there doing what we’re good at: supporting Gloucester, and – just every now and then – offering you advice when we think you need it. And, to be honest, you’ve been needing it quite a lot recently and it must be comforting to know that the Shedweb Forum is only a few clicks away. In fact, going back to the “intensity” and “passion” you mention, you don’t even have to give 100% to claim the fabled Gloucester support. In the Saracens match, for example, I reckon we only got about 60% from the team but have we done an Austin Healey on you? I should co-co?
I couldn’t help but notice the “generally” bit, though. Would it have hurt so much to say: “Gloucester Rugby fans are very understanding, very intelligent … blah, blah, blah” and left out the “generally” bit, even though, fair play, there are a few of us who are a hooker short of front row? That was a little hurtful, to be honest, and I can only pray it wasn’t directed at me; I am, after all, Mr Empathetic – even my wife thinks so – and my three ‘O’ levels (two if you don’t count Spoken English, which no employer ever has, more’s the pity) will bear witness to my intelligence.
Anyway, next time you tell us how wonderful we are, leave out the “generally” bit, will you? There’s a good chap.
I was looking forward to the Scarlets game – not because the Anglo-Welsh competition holds any real interest for me – but I was excited by the team of youngsters we sent across the dyke to do battle. Fair play, I hadn’t heard of half of them, but what a wonderful opportunity for these guys to pull up their socks, think of Gloucester and give 100%. I was always going to be scrappy, what with the weather and the fact they’d never played together before (I bet most of them hadn’t heard of half of them before, either) and I have to confess a particular interest: Jonny Bentley.
I don’t know Jonny Bentley but my heart goes out to him (told you I was Mr Empathetic). From what I’ve seen he is clearly a gifted rugby player and when I first heard he was to join Gloucester I was all of a tiz and got all excited. My immediate reaction was that someone at Gloucester – and I assumed it to be our Nige – had been very astute indeed.
On slightly closer inspection, however, I became a little confused. I don’t want to open up old wounds (if you do, you can have a look at my article Buying a Second-Hand Pirate) but not to put too fine a point on it, it appears that poor old Jonny was a little the worse for wear when we bought him – he hadn’t played for more than a season. He was, as we say in the trade, damaged goods and possibly not, after all, the most astute business decision Gloucester Rugby has ever made. It was the first time in our Nige’s tenure that I first doubted the man and although I tried, along with everyone else, to put a gloss on the sorry business, it was, as I say, a sorry business.
And not a lot has happened since then to change my mind – quite the opposite, in fact. He’s played in two matches, managing just over 90 minutes of rugby. Of course, I wish him all the best in his recovery from what the Gloucester Rugby website calls his latest ‘knock’. I’d love it if he made a speedy comeback and proved me wrong by becoming a Gloucester legend, but I just can’t see it, I’m afraid.
There’s more than a whiff of spring in the air down here in Gloucestershire – the days seem to be getting a bit longer and there’s a touch of warmth in the sun at last.
And Gloucester are scoring tries, again.
What a great win that was at Perpignan. Not only was it a five-try haul – which is a hat-full, in my book – but they included a classic and obligatory give-it-to-Jonny try (how he managed to knock over most of the Perpignan back line without actually touching them I’ll never know), a set-scrum, push-over try – how long since we last scored one of those? – and three others that saw forwards and backs combining – when did we last see a bit of that?
We leaked a couple of softies, unfortunately, but we came away from Perpignan with a resounding win under our belts, which was a shot in the arm that many of us craved. It’s certainly feels a whole lot better than the cold turkey we’ve been going through.
I should think the management team were pretty chuffed, too, not to say relieved, and it seems that behind the scenes at Kingsholm there’s a lot going on.
After the rather depressing autumn term review, our leader Stephen Vaughan has given us the New Year message to gladden our hearts. In his interview with the Citizen he said a lot of the stuff that I certainly wanted to hear.
Let’s see, now; when it comes to recruitment he talks of spending inordinate amounts of time – whole weekends, even – on the telephone phoning every rugby agent in the world:
“We’re very active and know exactly where we need players, and what type of people and characters we want.”
Foremost in his mind is Freddy’s replacement – there’s a lump in my throat and tear in my eye at the very thought of it:
“We’re scouring the world and want a 10 with all the usual attributes but it’s not just the obvious we look at. You want them to kick their points, be a pivotal person and get the backs going.”
He has an eye – a priority, even – for nurturing young local players which is encouraging:
“We have a wealth of talent, some really good under-20s coming through and our under-18s are unbeaten. We have to take all of that into account before we look elsewhere.”
I’ve never been a business man and so there is a little part of me that would like to see the club stride into the market place – à la Saracens – buying players left, right and centre but he’s determined, it seems – to stay profitable and within the cap. This has to be the only way forward, so well done, that man.
And at last, the club’s mission statement – well, a boiled-down version of it at least:
“We have to be a self-sufficient and profitable business while remaining in the top four – that’s our mission statement.”
Top four, eh? That’ll be next season, I assume.
He also mentions, albeit briefly, the elephant in the room – this season’s disappointing performance:
“It will be a holistic piece. We have to be very careful not to blame the forwards for this year. There have been a number of games where we have had a platform and not had a result.”
I’m not quite sure what the “holistic piece” is – the team, perhaps – but this little snippet is more interesting for what it doesn’t say than for what it does say. The “holistic” bit suggests we shouldn’t be blaming anybody because it’s all one big happy, interconnected unit; more specifically, we shouldn’t be blaming the forwards, but by inference (“there have been a number of games where we have had a platform and not had a result”) the backs haven’t performed either.
It’s a good job we’re not blaming anybody, then, because you just don’t know where that flying fickle finger of “the buck stops here” might end up.
The joy of it! At last I’ve come away from Kingsholm with a smirk on my face – almost a grin, if the truth be known – and I can resume my love affair with Gloucester Rugby. They gave their all – every single adorable one of them – for eighty beautiful minutes and walked off the pitch, dripping sweat and glory. They and we were all exhausted at the final climax but passion has come my way again, and it’s one hell of a relief.
I saw forwards competing in the tight and winning good, set-piece ball; I saw forwards bravely running into contact and putting their heads where there didn’t ought to be heads; I saw the back-row forwards rediscovering the reason that back-row forwards were invented; I saw three-quarters running straight lines – well, some of the time, anyway – to punch holes in the defence; and I witnessed a glorious don’t-give-it-to-Jonny try from my mate Charlie.
Glorious stuff. As I walked out of the ground, head held high, I heard snippets of conversation like ‘Brilliant, weren’t they.’ Or ‘That’s the best they’ve played all season.’ Or, ‘Great game – we can really kick on now.’
And it made my heart proud and I spent my time on the drive home composing a new Gloucester Rugby fans’ song, which I think it might catch on. It goes something like this:
The Kingsholm Shedheads sing this song,
The Gloucester players are too strong
Going to win today.
Smash ’em all up front.
Run around their backs,
I bet my money on a cherry ’n white win,
Best get out of our way.
Top notch lyrics, I think you’ll agree – poetic writing that’ll compete with old Alfred, any day of the week. Now, just got to think of a tune …
But then I got to thinking a bit deeper … just hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. Here’s me floating around the place, cloud nining it and thinking everything in the Gloucester Rugby camp is all tickety-boo when one rather irritating little detail keeps on jumping up and bopping me on the nose: we lost. We played with all that desire and get-up-and-go and joie de jouer and yet we lost.
And POP! All my happiness and relief that I was feeling just disappeared in a puff of despondency. Wave after wave of these irritating little details battered my outlook: we lost; at home; for the seventh time this season; at Castle Grim; against Munster.
And then after the despair came the guilt. I am, after all, a supporter of Gloucester Rugby, and a little voice goes on and on about how I must support and be positive and enjoy the good times and stiff-upper-lip it when the times get tough. We’ll have none of that negativity, the little voice drones on, so SUPPORT the team!
Well now, little voice, hear this well. I do. I am a supporter. I support the team. I pay my money to watch them. I clap and I chant “Gloucester, Gloucester” – well, I would if I could hit those G and E notes around which the whole dirge is based – and I tell the ref he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I really enjoy talking about the team with my mates, and I always want to exchange ideas and opinions. We don’t always agree but it’s what being a supporter is all about.
We give everything a good airing and put the world to rights: the scrum half should have done this or the full back should have done that; our loose head had the come-uppance on their tight head; the ref was crap; and if we were the coach we’d do this instead of that.
As I say, we’d put the world to rights.
The only fly half in the ointment these days is that online forums like Shedweb exist and after we’ve had a few pints we go home and instead of going to bed and looking forward to a bright new beginning, we carry on the conversation. And every now and then, because of the faceless nature of the internet we express ourselves a touch too strongly.
So you must forgive me if I express myself a touch too strongly.
The match against Munster was always going to be a passionate affair, Mike Teague handing out the shirts or not. After the previous week’s calamitous display against Saracens there had to be passion – shed loads of it. And it was good to see.
But why am I congratulating a Gloucester team for playing with passion? Isn’t that a gimmee? And anyway, at premiership level a team needs more than passion.
We had so much possession and we had so much territory and yet too many times basics individual skills let us down. Too many times team skills let us down. And too much of the time we don’t look like scoring a try.
Either the team isn’t clicking yet and it’s just a matter of time, which begs the question: why isn’t it clicking at this stage of the season? Or, the team doesn’t know how to click, which begs the question: gulp?
Either way, the team isn’t clicking.
I’m not sure what 2014 will bring for Gloucester Rugby but you can bet your bottom sixpence on one thing – it’s going to be very interesting. Although, not necessarily for the right reasons, I’m afraid, and I can only hope that our Nige’s new-year-resolution tray is full to brimming.
I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks, what with one thing and another, and in that time Gloucester Rugby posted a couple of wins. Blooming important wins, too, it has to be said. First up was a home 12 points to 6 win against Worcester – a cold, grim day and a dour match between two struggling teams. Next up, a precious 19 points to 22 away victory at London Irish – a cold, grim day and a dour match between two struggling teams.
But wins are wins and eight points is eight points, and for a spine-tingling moment or two I felt that this might be the green shoots of a successful new year – the turning point of the season. Eight beautiful points secured at the expense of the two teams below us and if we could just pull something magical out of the bag and sneak a win against Saracens, well, the world would be our oyster.
Who was I trying to kid? The matches against the Worriers and the Not-Nots were exactly what it said on the tin: bottom-three shoot-outs. Without wishing to sound too much like Ebenezer Scrooge, all we did was confirm our position as the third worst team in the premiership. We won’t be relegated – Worcester are the team for the long drop – but such is the difference between the best and the worst in the Aviva Premiership, there are probably two or three teams in the Championship that could possibly give us a bit of a hiding at the moment. In fact, I reckon with a following wind and a sympathetic ref, Cainscross RFC could teach Gloucester a thing or two!
So let’s see: we couldn’t score a try against Worcester and came within six thank-the-Lord inches of losing; and at the Madejski Stadium the Not-Nots scored three of the buggers and the only one we scored in our three-point win was a give-it-to-Jonny special. The Not-Nots coughed up the ball from the loose, Billy 12Ts pounced, gave it to Jonny (of course) and away Jonny went, unopposed.
We can’t score tries. Not good-old-fashioned, through-the-phases, honest-to-goodness, team-created tries, anyway. Even when we have parity in the scrum – or near-as-dammit parity in the scrum – the Gloucester Rugby team is about as threatening as a cherry blancmange.
And there aren’t many blancmanges that are going to worry the Saracens – not in their present form, anyway. Even before they arrived the writing – big and large and using words of no more than two syllables – was very plainly written on the wall: ‘You are stuffed,’ the writing said ‘Well and truly stuffed.’ The trouble is, not many of us cared to read it because we were too busy burying our heads in our hands, praying to the dear Lord Almighty – who lives in Kingsholm, by the way – that if it’s all right with Him, could He see his way to letting us pull off something rather miraculous against those scimitar-rattling infidels? We were, however, in for a tough time, and a tough time is what we got.
You know, on all sorts of levels, I don’t half feel for those players out there on the pitch. When they are playing they’re surrounded by 15,000 supporters baying for blood – the blood of the opposition preferably, but their own if necessary. They’re doing their best – you have to believe it – and then to cap it all, armchair critics like me, who haven’t had the sharp end of a rugby ball stuffed up their rear-end for decades, start pontificating and saying they should be doing this and they should be doing that and they show no commitment and they should be ashamed of themselves. Et cetera.
As I said a couple of paragraphs up, you have to believe that the players are trying their hardest; I know, I know – there were times in the match, in the first half particularly when this was difficult to see, and whenever you watch a match of rugby and you come away thinking that every single player in the starting fifteen was throwing a sickie then something’s very wrong. Our Nige said it himself:
‘I thought all the subs when they came on brought great energy, which is a bit of a worry because I would have hoped to have seen that from the rest of the team.’
Worrying words indeed, and you have to ask yourself the question: why? The answer is probably well beyond my pay scale but the only thing I can think of is that there is an issue between the players and the coaching team. If you’re a player and you love your coach (in every platonic sense of the word) then you’ll put your body on the line for him. The trouble is, if you don’t approve of the way you are being coached, or if you don’t agree with what you are being told to do, then you become a bit more half hearted.
There’s a rumour going round the Gloucester cognoscenti that on the basis that Saracens don’t do running rugby in their own half, the tactic was to keep them pinned back by playing a well judged kicking game.
What? Haven’t we been paying attention? That is so last year! This year’s Saracens are not the same as last year’s Saracens – they spent last year playing pragmatic, basic rugby and now they’ve got that sorted they have developed another weapon: the off-loading game. And they do it very well indeed.
And talking of improvement: our Nige has often mentioned that his team (our team, please!) isn’t ‘where we’d like to be’. Well he’s not wrong there. However, apart from stating the bleeding obvious this rather clichéd throw-away line begs the question: why the blooming hell not? And, assuming that where we’d like to be is an improvement on where we were last season, and what’s more, realising the enormity of the gulf between where we were at the end of last season and where we happen to be floundering at the moment, it also begs the question: OMG, what catastrophes have taken place between then and now that have allowed such an abyss-like gap to develop?
It may sound as if I’m having a bit of a go at our Nige. And I suppose I am, really. But there have been so many problems, so many deficiencies in personal skills and team skills it’s difficult to look much further than the coaching.
There is a malaise. Mark my words. Write it on the wall for all to see. There is a malaise and it needs to be identified and sorted. The longer we leave it, the more difficult it will become and the messier it will get. Something’s not right at Kingsholm and buying a fly-half and replacement set of front-row forwards is not going to put it right.
Castle Grim? Tell that to the Saracen bench players who, twenty minutes from the end of the match, were joshing and laughing and making rabbit ears behind the players being interviewed. This was a display of childish larking-about that took my breath away. It says a lot about them, but even more about the match. They should be quivering in their seats, hemmed in by the baying of the Kingsholm faithful.
Castle Grim has been breached and who the hell is going to stand up and fix it?
And that’s about as Christmassy as it’s going to get, I’m afraid. All my festive goodwill evaporated last Sunday in the wind and rain of a grim Gloucester afternoon.
You just don’t know whether you’re coming or going, being a Gloucester supporter. And this season is the most coming-and-going season I’ve experienced for a while. Whatever you want to call it – a rollercoaster ride, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, lack of consistency – the lows are pretty low and the peaks just aren’t peaky enough. One minute we’ve given those pesky Scots a bit of a seeing-to and we’re all hooraying and high-fiving, and the next they’ve swarmed over Hadrian’s wall with a new coaching plan tucked under their kilts (a simple but very effective tackle-anything-that-moves coaching plan) and they’ve marched down to Gloucester City and battered down the gates of Fortress Kingsholm.
What the Freddie Burns was that all about then? I’m beginning to crave a bit of consistency, I can tell you – and I mean consistency in the way of consistently good, not the other.
I was a happy chap last week and looking forward to my Christmas pudding: we’d won a crucial away fixture and, with a following wind and a bit cor-blimey, we could possibly claw our way back into the Heineken quarter-finals. I even thought a premiership play-off position was still a possibility – you’ve got to dream, haven’t you? I just had this gut feeling that everything was now beginning to click – team cohesion, coaching plans etc, etc.
And now I’m all grumpy again. I know it’s only a game and I know everyone is doing their best – at least I assume everyone is doing their best – but we pay good money to watch these professionals and we have a certain level of expectation. That’s not too unreasonable, is it?
For the first time ever I heard the chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ and wondered who was being serenaded. Referee? Team? Or coach?
I do not buy into the theory that it was the indiscipline of our team that cost us the game against Edinburgh. And neither do I buy into the theory that this lack of discipline is a player problem and outside the control of the coach. Without doubt there was a bit of silliness out there, but even had we been camped on their line for the full eighty minutes, I don’t think we would have had the nous to score a try. And neither would it have mattered a jot, if we’d had fourteen, fifteen or one hundred and fifteen players on the pitch. A try wasn’t going to happen.
And anyway, a team with poor discipline, is a poorly coached team, isn’t it? It’s one thing to have an occasional rush of blood – it’s a completely different kettle of fish to be serial offenders.
And while we’re on the subject of poorly coached teams, if our backs can only run diagonally and then throw huge, looped, miss passes into the crowd, we are a poorly coached team. Even worse, if you have no idea what to with the ball, you are, by definition, a poorly coached team, and there were times, I’m almost sure of it, when Gloucester players found themselves with the ball in their hands and thought: ‘Blooming hell. What do I do with this?’
Even camped on their try line they had no spark of imagination – for phase after phase they pounded the line and for phase after phase they didn’t look like scoring. They crabbed almost the whole width of the pitch, but not an inch forward did they advance. And you can’t blame the forwards for not giving the ball to the backs, either – the three-quarters looked even less likely to score.
And I’m sure the irony of the set-piece performance has not escaped you: the front five performance was solid and the lineout reliable. That we were able to keep in any sort of contact with Edinburgh was due to a pack of forwards so recently lambasted for its ineptness.
I had some terrible thoughts as I watched that match: so poor was the attitude, I wondered whether there’s a bit of discord running through the camp. There were instances of non-commitment that caught my eye that made me quiver with rage.
And then, to compound my concern, at the end of the match our Nige insisted that he experienced problems getting his instructions across to the players on the pitch.
The ramifications of that comment are mind boggling.
Is he distancing himself from the performance? ‘If they’d listened to me,’ he seems to be suggesting, ‘everything would have been okay.’ Or is he claiming that the players didn’t have the tactical wherewithal or leadership to cope with the match conditions.
Worcester next week and who, I ask you, is targeting whom. Is our Nige looking up the M5 and banking on four, possibly five, points? Or is our EX looking down the M5 and licking his lips at the thought of his first premiership win of the season?
No but seriously, Gloucester will beat Worcester – we couldn’t possibly be that bad – but it’s a measure of my Christmas dispiritedness that the thought has even crossed my mind.
The other week, when Leicester visited Kingsholm with their A team and gave us a bit of a tonking, I noticed Billy Twelvetrees having a right go at Jonny May. That’s a bit rum, I thought. What’s going on there?
We all love Jonny, don’t we? What a great runner he is and I love to see him give that little wave as he runs under the posts. There are times, however, when he seems to have a little rush of blood to the head or a rush of testosterone to the … wherever testosterone rushes to … and he gets a little carried away. All of a sudden he finds himself holding the ball and, with the terrible burden of the expectant throngs of Kingsholm supporters chanting Jonnneee, Jonnneee, Jonnneee, he feels obliged to do something exciting – even when there’s nothing exciting to be done.
For half a second he stands there, ball in hand and the opposition forwards are positively slavering as they charge in his general direction. Instead of passing it to someone who knows better, or kicking it into touch or feigning a fatal injury, he throws his head back and does what everyone in the ground is baying for – something exciting. If the way forward is blocked – it usually is – he invariably chooses run around the opposition, his team mates and his own goal posts, in a desperate search for space. Sometimes it works but more often than not, unfortunately, he ends up at the bottom of a ruck somewhere behind the position he first received the ball and when he does eventually peel himself off the turf – having been turned over, of course – he saunters back to his position on the wing.
And old Billy gave him a right mouthful. I’ve become pretty good at lip reading over the years and the gist of it was: “I don’t know what the hell you were trying to do just then but if you are going to take the ball and run around the pitch like you’ve eaten a Moruga Scorpion you could at least have the decency, when you’ve finally extricated your nose out of the dirt, to make more of an effort to get back into position to do the hard graft and inglorious stuff that rest have to do.” And he was waving his arms around in a none too friendly fashion.
That was interesting, I pondered. Very interesting. And a couple of other little thoughts crossed my mind, too. One of them was that this guy – Twelvetrees, that is – would probably make a very good captain.
The other thought was that Billy 12Ts might have been expressing his frustration, not just with Jonny, but with the way Gloucester have played this season. Don’t forget the pedigree of Billy – he’s a Leicester man and he knows what it’s like to be in a professional outfit – a truly professional outfit – where they don’t rely on opportunistic, give-it-to-Jonny, turn-over tries as their only source of points.
Just a thought.
Well, anyway, with the return to the Heineken Cup, we had to face up to an unfortunate injury to our captain, Tom Savage, and a trip up to Edinburgh. Interestingly, Billy 12Ts was given the captain’s armband, and we played a half-decent game coming away with a very good win. And, things being what they are at the moment, a win’s not just a win – it’s a shot in the arm.
And what’s more, my mate May catches the ball, sticks two fingers in my general direction and, with the terrible burden of the expectant throngs of the Edinburgh supporters willing their forwards to pounce on him, he feels obliged to do something exciting – and sets up a wonderful try for Martyn Thomas.
So that’s all right then.
We hear, too, that Christmas is coming early to Kingsolm and that Santa is being very generous indeed: Sila Puafisi, John Afoa and, dare I say it, Richard Hibbard have been (are about to be) signed up and if that isn’t a mouthwatering front-row prospect, my name’s not Gloucester Ed … which it isn’t, thinking about it, but you get my point.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that as I sallied forth to do some festive shopping in Gloucester’s Poundland this morning, I noticed the good burghers of Gloucester walking around with a bit of a swagger and a bit of a smile – not something we’ve been doing much lately. It’s a blimey-we-won-a-game sort of swagger and a pity-the-poor-buggers-who-come-up-against-our-front-row-next-season sort of smile. I don’t want to tempt fate or anything, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the win in Edinburgh turns out to be that exciting and elusive season-defining game I like to go on about.
We’re on the up, I tell you, we’re on the up.
By any stretch of the imagination we are not, I assume, in the position we hoped we might be when our Nige was planning things at the end of last season. I was therefore a bit surprised when I heard that he had decided that it was time for a short sabbatical from frontline coaching and that Andrew Stanley was taking over the rudder. Surprise, however, turned to excitement when I heard he was preparing a report on the term’s progress. OMG, I thought, our Nige has been summoned to explain the situation to Ryan Walkinshaw and the suits.
I can only imagine what happened:
Young Ryan: Well, our Nige, what’s going on then? Tenth we are! Tenth, I ask you. Only two wins out of eight. And that, without being too blunt about it, is the most disastrous start to any sporting campaign since Gloucestershire’s very own Eddie the Eagle’s first jump in the 1988 Winter Olympics … which wasn’t very good, to be honest – if it hadn’t have been for gravity and Newton’s first law of motion, he’d probably not have travelled any distance at all.
Our Nige: Sorry, sir. The thing is, I’ve been doing this new fangled thing called squad rotation …
Young Ryan: Squad rotation? Never heard of it. Sure you don’t mean crop rotation?
Our Nige: No, sir. Squad rotation. Rather a clever ruse where everyone gets a jolly good game, and everyone plays with everyone else and gets used to playing with each other so we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet when we’re on the rugby pitch. So to speak.
Young Ryan: Just a couple of tiny little points for you to consider, our Nige. One: while you’re rotating anything with two legs and everyone is having a jolly good time playing with each other and so forth, we just happen to be losing three out of every four matches we play. And two: I’ll have no singing of hymns in this club. On the field or off it. We run a secular club, you know. Godless is the way I like it, so there’ll be no hymns, thank you very much. Why don’t you just play the best team?
Our Nige: I don’t know what it is.
Young Ryan: What? When will you know?
Our Nige: Well, all things considered and when every player in the squad has had an equal amount of game time, I might be able to answer that question by the end of the season. Or possibly next. Is that all right?
And so, I suppose, they hit on the idea of an autumn term report as a compromise and this week that report was published. Well, I say ‘published’ but I’ll rephrase that: … this week that report was completed although not published.
But never fear; brutal it was, brutal.
An autumn term report eh? I used to dread my school reports – my mother was always so disappointed in me. I won’t go into detail but almost every subject was the same: ‘could do better’.
A few years later I found myself on the other side of the report-writing process but that was post national Curriculum and life had become more complicated for teachers. Instead of saying things like: ‘little Jimmy is a complete tosser and should start listening when I’m teaching instead farting for the benefit of his mates at the back of the class’. I had to say things like: ‘little Jimmy is an active learner and would benefit from a more focussed approach to classwork’.
Anyway, our Nige was lucky – he was able to do his own report. Self-assessment we’d call it in teaching circles.
Young Ryan: What have you got for me, our Nige?
Our Nige: You’re going to like this, sir. It’s brutal.
Young Ryan: Brutal, eh? I like the sound of that. Burning a few Christians are we – that sort of thing?
Our Nige: No, not quite sir, but listen to this: the first conclusion I’ve come to is that we’re not where we wanted to be …
Young Ryan: No shit, Sherlock!
Our Nige: … er … so we’ve looked across the whole club and challenged everybody and everything.
Young Ryan: And?
Our Nige: And the policy of squad rotation hasn’t helped the cause, sir, and so we’ll pick the strongest team from now on … I’m sure I can work that one out.
Young Ryan: And?
Our Nige: Oh yes. We’ve got a bit of a weakness in the front row, sir – due, in no small measure to red cards and injury, but don’t worry we’re going to fill the gap with a Tongan.
Young Ryan: And that’s it?
Our Nige: Pretty much, sir, yes. Brutal, isn’t it?
Or, in other words: could do better.
In an LV= Cup match at Kingsholm, while playing against Newcastle, both James Simpson-Daniel and Ryan Mills were stretchered off with serious leg injuries. Both were ferried off to London for surgery – that’s where all the big-nob surgeons hang out, evidently – and although there has been no hard information from the club (at the time of writing) both are looking at lengthy recovery times.
Ryan Mills, you might recall, is my tip to be the star of the Gloucester back line but his fledgling career has already been dogged by injury. And just when our Nige is giving him some serious game time, the flying fickle finger of fate creeps up behind him, shouts “Gotchya” and breaks his blooming leg.
Sinbad’s injury looked that much more serious, though, and I have to ask myself if this isn’t the end of Sinbad’s reign at Gloucester. He joined us as a teenager and he’s been my hero ever since. Only injury and – dare I say it? – one-eyed England management has stopped him being a national hero, as well. As much as I’d love this talismanic career to go on forever, at some stage it’ll end and this might just be it. You’ll probably remember that it was last November that he picked up the shoulder injury that kept him off the team sheet for the rest of the season and now, a year later, his body has let him down again.
I wish the two of them all the very best for a speedy recovery.
The result – a 20 points to 12 win to Gloucester – was almost completely meaningless. In the previous LV= Cup match we’d sent a lambs to the Northampton slaughterhouse to be minced up and last Saturday in the same competition and with no realistic hope, or possibly even intention, of progressing, we fielded a full strength side – or as near as dammit.
Of course there can be no criticism of the GR management. It’s just a galling coincidence that in a pointless fixture we field our strongest team and two of our most gifted players are badly injured. I would, however, love to know the selection logic of the last three matches because we mustn’t forget that sandwiched between those two games we played a full strength Gloucester team and beat a Japan XV in a crucial Nippo-Gastle Grim friendly.
And the good news?
Sione Kalamafoni is to extend his stay at Kingsholm. This guy is the back-row business – a strong and an exciting Tongan international – and to have him in the fold for the next couple of years is good news indeed. My eyes positively sparkled when I saw our Nige’s words of wisdom:
“He could have made more money elsewhere, but he wants to stay here at Gloucester. He knows the plans that we’ve put in place and believes in what we’re doing. He wants to be part of something here. I’ve said all along that there’s a huge commitment here by the board to be successful, and we have clear plans moving forward. Sione and the other recent signings will be a big part of that, and it shows our intent.”
We’ve got a plan! More than that – we’ve got plans.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I’ve been banging on about targets, and plans and so forth. I honestly don’t know how much a rugby club is meant to divulge to its adoring public but I just feel that this particular rugby club doesn’t divulge enough. I don’t want Gloucester to publish its playbook, or anything – that would be stupid – but at the moment I’m feeling a bit left out. I would love to know what the medium- and long-term plans are.
So, at least Sione has seen the plans. And, excitingly, they are plans “moving forward” which is a real relief, I can tell you. And – here’s the cherry on the white icing – they are “clear” plans “moving forward”. Even better!
Whatever that means.
I suppose what it means is that we’ve got plans that have been explained to at least one Tongan who wants to be “part of something”. Anyway, the man from Tonga has seen the plans and he say yes. So that’s all right, then.
I suppose it could be argued that I’m asking for too much. We are just the fans, after all, and it’s our job to be loyal. And that means turning up every week to watch the rugby and wildly sing our Glawster Anthem, if we can remember the words. Then we can go home to our family and our jobs where we can jolly well stay until the next match.
A bit harsh? I’m not sure.
All things considered we got pretty excited last year. Nigel Davies took over as Director of Rugby and arrived all suntanned and confident and proceeded to sail Gloucester Rugby out of the turbulence of the Bryan Redpath era and into the relative calm of the 2012–13 season.
One way or another, we welcomed him into the Gloucester Rugby family, because that’s what we are down here, one big, happy family. Under the watchful eye of young Ryan, he quickly became the patriarchal figure of Gloucester. He was wedded unceremoniously to the fans and his coaching staff, and like a duck to water he started guiding his young players through the rough and tumble of an Aviva Premiership season.
There were disappointments, granted – show me a man who goes through life without disappointments and I’ll show you a Leicester supporter – but in the end we finished up sixth, and a top-six premiership position means we qualified for the Heineken Cup. So that’s all right, then.
The thing is, it’s all changed a bit, this season – not in a good way, either – and some members of the family, notably, the ones who pay big money every week to watch the rugby, are getting a bit tetchy. And it’s easy to see why: we’re languishing at the bottom of Pool 6 in the Heineken Cup, flapping around against the tide to keep off the rocks at the bottom of the Premiership table and our LV= situation is none too chipper, either. Relationships are bound to be strained. Even family relationships.
Team rotation and the development of Sid was the plan to begin with but there never seemed to be any continuity and we never got to identify our best team. Master plan or schoolboy error?
Then we go to Thomond Park with what looks like a second team and missed out on an opportunity to beat the Monsters at a time when they might have been wobbling a bit. Master plan or schoolboy error?
And then, to cap it all, we travel to Northampton to play the first LV= Cup match, with, if truth be told, nothing more than a Colts team: a shedload of up-and-coming academy lads, including – wait for it – two school kids. One of them, Ollie Thurley, is only seventeen years old.
Master plan or schoolboy error?
Seventeen years old, I ask you. They must make kids differently these days because when I was seventeen I spent most of my Saturday afternoons scratching my bum and picking my nose, although not with the same finger, I hasten to add. A first-team appearance was a fantastic achievement for these lads and I hope they enjoyed the experience but the last thing we needed at that particular time was another poor performance.
Which we got.
It was always going to be a very tricky match for our Nige and it must have been his lack of experience in the classroom that made him decide to offload the job onto poor old Andrew Stanley. Take it from me (Y9, bottom set French has taught me a thing or two about kids, I can tell you) going to Northampton on a coach with a bunch of toddlers is no picnic.
Handing the captaincy to Freddy Burns can’t have helped the situation any, either. Freddy, for all his skills with the ball in his hand, is not long out of short trousers himself and is hardly the father figure that some of those youngsters needed on the pitch, or on the coach, for that matter. Perhaps our Nige was being clever: put Freddy in charge and with all the toddlers looking up to him and asking him questions like ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ and ‘Where’s the toilet?’, he might mature a bit himself, which would be a very useful. Can you imagine the damage Freddy will do once he’s mature and sensible?
No. The common-sense choice of captain in a match where you need to keep control of kids who’ve had nothing but e-numbers for breakfast, should have been Will James. You don’t mess with Herman.
And so the question I ask myself is this: what are we trying to achieve? Young Ryan, is bound to have had a cosy word or two with his protégé before this season started:
‘Not a bad start to a career at Gloucester, our Nige. But what are you going to do as an encore? What’s your goal, if you don’t mind me asking? HC quarter finals? Premiership play-offs? Anglo-Welsh final? A win against Japan?’
We have to assume that there was a game plan? But you can bet your bottom Yen that the goals that young Ryan and our Nige agreed over Horlicks a few months ago are not the same as the goals they’ll be talking about over Cocoa now. It’s all changed.
My gripe is that the junior members of this family – the poor and uninformed supporters – are never told anything. I could almost accept (almost, I said) a master plan that ended: “ … and then we’ll beat Japan” if said master plan had been communicated to said supporters in some said way.
When we get to the end of the season we might be pretty chuffed at the way we’re playing at the moment. What with one thing and another, we could be in a bit of a dog fight for the one relegation spot available and these bonus points we’re picking up will be darn useful: a losing bonus point here, a losing bonus point there – they all mount up, you know. And if we’re really good – like we were last Saturday – we’ll win the occasional try bonus point, as well.
So that’s all right, then.
You’ll understand, too, that when I saw the following headline on the Gloucester Rugby website I felt a bit peeved:
GLOUCESTER RUGBY’S COMEDY NIGHT IS BACK
Surely it wasn’t that bad. Okay, we might have lost to a mid-table team at Castle Grim – known formerly and proudly as Kingsholm, although, to be fair, now beginning to take on the mantle of Nige’s Wendy House – but when it comes to the final show down with Dean Ryan and his also-rans up the M5 (oh no, not another showdown with Dean Ryan!) we’ll be bandying around those LBPs with an air of invincibility.
So there! We’ll have none of that pessimism here, thank you very much. And if we continue to amass these LBPs, I really don’t think ninth position is beyond our reach.
A few matches ago when we played against Harlequins – do you remember those halcyon days when we were fluking the occasional win? – I was surprised by the actions of one Gloucester supporter who was sitting in the JS Security Stand. You know how it goes: the public-address bloke, in a muted but polite way, says something to the tune of, ‘Will you please welcome our visitors – Harlequins.’ And there’s a ripple of applause while a few of the away supporters try to create something a bit more boisterous. It must be my upbringing, I suppose, but I always show my appreciation of the visiting team. Nothing too exuberant, mind – just a minor finger clapping to wish the opposition well.
I was a bit surprised when one particular Gloucester supporter stood up and started having an epileptic fit just as the soon-to-be-robbed Quins ran on to the pitch. ‘That’s weird,’ I thought to myself. ‘I hope he’s okay.’
I was even more surprised when the Hairy Queens trotted out for the second half of the game and the poor sod popped up again to continue his fitting. ‘That’s very weird,’ I thought to myself. But just as I was about to alert the St John Ambulance people, it began to dawn on me that this guy wasn’t having an epileptic fit at all. Believe it or not – and you’ll probably find this a bit hard to swallow – the arm waving and finger pointing were actually obscene gestures and the funny facial expressions were, I assumed, lewd comments about parentage and so forth.
As you can imagine, I got a little cross.
Fast forward a few matches to Saturday’s winning performance against those pesky Pests and you’ll find that the Wasps playmaker is none other than Andy Goode. You know, Andy Goode of Leicester fame. Worcester, as well, but mainly Leicester.
This guy has seen a thing or two in his career and when it comes to experience he positively drips it. I still remember, although I’d prefer not to, his drop goal that turfed us out of the Heineken Cup a few years back but he has, in fact, teased and outplayed us for many years. Cheer him, fear, him or revere him all you like, but one thing you can’t do is disrespect the guy.
I would have been surprised if a few words of jaunty banter hadn’t emanated from the Shed – we’re only human, after all – but for some, the desire to shout inane personal insults was an opportunity too exciting to pass up. And they did.
Which said more about them than it did about Andy Goode, I can tell you.
And what really makes me laugh is that if you call a rugby player a fat bastard and then that fat bastard plays a blinder, pulling all the right strings, controlling the game and kicking the goals and beats you … well you’ve just been beaten by a fat bastard and what does that make you?
And I suppose it was the same idiots who took delight in booing and shouting when Goode was kicking for goal. Do you remember what it was like when we played against Munster and Jonny Bentley was stepping up to take his kicks? Silent, it was. Silent.
No one enjoys losing but last Saturday’s game was exciting, not to say nerve-racking, and we saw eight tries, two of which were Christian Wade sizzlers.
Unfortunately, we also saw evidence that yahoos exist and they’re beginning to find their voice at Kingsholm, which is a great shame.
To be honest, that was a bit of a let-down, really, and it certainly didn’t live up to the hype. We were promised something special – an event that would match anything that happened back in nineteen hundred and whenever-it-was – but all we got was a bit of huff and puff. And that was it.
Storm? What storm?
There was, of course that other little matter that took place down the A46 but I’ve got no intention of dragging that up from my subconscious. It can stay there, undisturbed, as far as I’m concerned. My motto in life is simple: excruciating defeats at the hands of Bath Rugby are best purged from the memory banks and cast into the abyss of my forgetfulness. It’s the only way; by persuading myself it didn’t ever happen, eventually, the pain eases. After all, does a falling tree make any noise if there’s no one there to hear it? Or something.
Rugby match? What rugby match?
Why does the loss hurt so much? Why are derby matches so blooming do or die? It’s important to have ownership of the local bragging rights, I suppose, but when it comes to Bath there’s something more raw than that – the competiveness that runs through the Gloucester–Bath fixture is always particularly fruity.
We don’t like the Wreck, for a start. The Bath rugby ground is all very pretty when the sun is shining but when it isn’t (most of the time) it’s a soggy hell hole from which to watch rugby and a boggy hell hole on which to play rugby.
Then there’s the class thing. They’re a bunch of toffs, don’t you know, and they eat prawn sandwiches all day long made from organic wholemeal bread. Obviously. Most of them are called Jeremy and they speak proper English which leads to communication problems with your average Gloucester fan.
And finally there’s the history. In the good old days of the amateur game, Bath cheated. No word of a lie – they cheated. The word ‘shamateurism’ was coined by the Oxford English Dictionary to describe the Bath way of doing things. And the long and short of it, of course, was that Bath always seemed to beat Gloucester and we didn’t appreciate that.
Anyway, back to important matters: Sunday’s little squall was a storm that never was – where I live, anyway. A Michael Fish moment, if you like, but in reverse. All a bit annoying, given that I’d spent most of Sunday tidying away into the garage anything I found in the garden that looked a bit unstable, including my son.
As I went about my battening-down-the-hatches duties I started thinking that it doesn’t matter what He decides to chuck at us in the way of thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening because it pales into insignificance when you compare it to the storm that’s brewing over the hill in Gloucester at this very moment. It’s now an accepted fact – accepted by the whole world, I might add – that any Gloucester Rugby team that runs out onto the pitch on match day has a front five that would struggle to wrestle its way out of a soggy paper bag. Opposition teams target that area and, importantly, referees have got it in their noggins that if anything goes wrong in the scrum it must be Gloucester’s fault because they’re weak and useless. Ping.
Even as I write, Gloucester coaches are studying the Dark Arts Handbook for magical coaching methods that’ll change our fortunes, and our Nige is poring over a thesaurus, looking for new ways to say ‘We’ve got the personnel. We just need to adapt to the new scrummaging laws’. We’re even starting to sack decent squad players – good luck and thanks, Tim Molenaar – to create a bit of spare cash so we can go to market waving a shopping list.
And as far as I can make out if you’re over twenty stone, ugly, and have ever played rugby for South Africa or in Eastern Europe, you’ll be on that list.