Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Harlequins 28 – 17 Gloucester

Friday 29th April, 2016. The last time Gloucester recorded back to back wins in the AVIVA Premiership. This statistic, probably more than any other, indicates the problems that have faced the Cherry and Whites over the last 18 months. From the sublime performance against Exeter to a horror show against Harlequins, Johann Ackermann has not yet managed to rid his new charges of their inconsistencies.

When comparing the number of lost lineouts and the number of turnovers to the win against the champions, Gloucester reversed all their good work from the week before, allowing Harlequins to cruise to victory. A victory where many of their own fans weren’t happy with the team’s performance. Ackermann had warned that Gloucester’s win against Exeter, although pleasing wasn’t necessarily a true reflection of where he saw his team in their development. Sure enough the same old issues re-emerged, failing to capitalise on opposition mistakes and opportunities created, while gifting possession and territory needlessly.

There were a few plus points from the performance, namely the continued improvement in the scrum which bodes well for the rest of the season. Previous campaigns have seen Gloucester penalised relentlessly at the scrum, the supporters will be heartened to see that this appears to be at an end.

Harlequins to their credit took their chances well, even a serious injury to Dimitri Catrakilis - who remains in hospital after fracturing a bone in his throat – could not derail a much improved performance. Quins still have a number of ‘x-factor’ players who can create a chance from nothing. Gloucester’s tactic of double tackling, which worked so well against Exeter was nullified by the offloading and individual brilliance of Jamie Roberts, Mike Brown et al. It may be necessary to have a different game plan when playing against sides less well drilled as the Champions.

Preview:  Leicester v Gloucester at Welford Road          

Leicester have had a disappointing start to the season with two defeats in their opening two games. There has been an immediate impact from former Gloucester star, Johnny May, already scoring three tries, but the biggest concern for the Tigers will be the performances of their pack. High profile departures and injuries has de-powered the traditional strength of the 10 times champions.

It is ironic that May appears to have joined a Leicester side that may be suffering from a similar problem that has afflicted his former team – namely a top back line starved of quality ball from a retreating pack. Leicester have never finished below 6th since the formation of the top flight in 1987 and over the past 30 years they have always managed to find a way to win, sometimes not entirely within the laws of the game. The familiar chant at Kingsholm of “Same old Leicester, always cheating” is normally met with the entirely correct response of “Same old Leicester, always winning!”

Gloucester have won at Welford Road on a number of occasions, with the most notable victory coming in early 2004 as Martin Johnson prepared to show off the recently won World Cup. The last win was in 2007, while many will remember the 41-41 draw in 2011. As a rugby venue, it is one of the best. The biggest capacity of any Rugby Union only club ground and a vociferous crowd that expects a performance and victory. They are certainly very quick to express their displeasure towards a referee should they take a different opinion on a particular decision.

If Gloucester are to win they will need to eradicate the errors at the lineout and make sure the Leicester backline continues to be starved of ball. Twice in the last two games a kick ahead from Billy Burns has led to an opposition try, not necessarily because of the kick itself, rather the defensive line being slow to meet the oncoming player meaning gaps and ‘dog-legs’ giving space for a counter-attack. The scrum will be crucial too. Fraser Balmain, who has been very impressive thus far, is unavailable as is Ben Morgan. In the backs, former Tiger Owen Williams is still suffering from a back injury sustained in pre-season while Mark Atkinson will also miss out. Henry Trinder impressed in a Gloucester United side that comfortable defeated their Bath counterparts on Sunday afternoon and may be in line for a recall to the 1st XV.

Leicester have already lost Manu Tuilagi again to injury, this time out until the New Year, while there are also concerns about Brendon O’Connor and Graham Kitchener. However the Tigers are still able to call on the likes of Matt Toomua and Johnny May who will look to exploit any gaps in the Gloucester backline. A losing bonus point would be seen as a good result for the ‘Cherry and Whites’ although much like their previous game against Quins, if they are to buck the recent trend of finishing in the lower half of the table a win would certainly make a statement. 

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