For Gloucester Rugby, a home victory against Sale Sharks was vital, and this they achieved, whilst also showing glimpses of improvement from recent performances. After two tryless games, it was good to see Rob Cook and Sione Kalamafoni (twice) cross the line, and the scrum restore pride after the mullering it suffered against Northampton Saints. One victory, of course, does not fix all the problems and issues I have looked at in previous articles, but 7th place going into a Gloucester vs Worcester double header is a decent position to be in.
Momentum Key for Gloucester in Worcester Game
Despite this victory, it would be fair to say that confidence is still quite fragile down at Kingsholm — certainly for supporters but probably for the players too. For me, ever since the explosive first half up at Newcastle Falcons in the opening game, Gloucester have not been hitting the highest levels of performance that we know the players are capable of. This appears to be affecting supporters, with plenty of empty seats visible on Friday, and an apparently flatter than usual atmosphere. I noticed this when I was at the opening home game against Saracens, and it is worrying if Kingsholm is losing part of its intimidation factor. With kick-off times at the whim of TV companies, and two ninth-place finishes, it is not surprising that support is wavering, but this is the time when support is needed most to help get the results everyone wants.
This moves us neatly onto the Gloucester vs Worcester double header in the European Challenge Cup taking place on the next two Thursdays. The graveyard slot of televised European rugby is another challenge for supporters, but with only 30 miles between the two clubs supporters will hopefully be able to turn out in good numbers at both games and play their part in these local derbies. Gloucester’s next Aviva Premiership match is at Twickenham in Harlequins’ Big Game 8, so the perfect preparation would be back-to-back victories, and all-important momentum will be key over the next two weeks.
Having overcome Worcester once already in a tight match back in October, Gloucester should be confident that they can pick up a rare victory at Sixways, which would in turn be a big psychological boost before the return game at Kingsholm. However a perverse consequence of the compacted season is that Europe is the only time that these two clubs can rest players, making it difficult to build consistency and momentum as the Challenge Cup interrupts the Premiership season.
The team announcements confirm this, with youngsters such as Billy Burns, Lewis Ludlow and Elliott Stooke getting starts, as well as the reintegration of Greig Laidlaw and Henry Trinder from the World Cup and injury respectively. Worcester are fielding a similarly changed team from their last game against Leicester Tigers, so the game may be decided by whose so-called reserve players can click quickest rather than by the form book.
With all this in mind, an away win at Worcester would do Gloucester the world of good; it would put them in pole position to top the group, provide a third away win of the season and continue to build confidence. Head coach Laurie Fisher has said that the Cherry and Whites are taking Europe one game at a time with a focus on a good performance, and I believe this step-by-step approach is the best way forward over the next few weeks.