A third derby win over Worcester Warriors this season makes it four from four for Gloucester in the Challenge Cup and all but guarantees their place in the Quarter Finals for a fourth consecutive season. As the Cherry and Whites now look forward to an appearance at Twickenham on 27th December for Big Game 8 against Harlequins, what positives can be taken from the 27-13 victory at Kingsholm on Thursday night?
Challenge Cup: Four from four for Gloucester in Europe
First, it was a solid performance that never really had me in doubt of the result, led by a forward pack short of the big names such as John Afoa and Jeremy Thrush but backed up by a back line full of first team players. With most of the star names rested last week at Sixways it was important for men such as Greig Laidlaw, Johnny May and James Hook to get back in the team and firing before the return to Aviva Premiership next week. Also it was good to see that the tinkering of positions has died down, with only Henry Purdy playing in a position that would not be considered his natural role.
Maybe this return to normality helped produce the first try, when May received the ball in space on the left wing, and was able to scamper up the touchline alongside the main stand before chipping over the defence, winning the ball from the man on the ground and shipping out to Laidlaw for the Scotsman to score his first try for Gloucester. This move demonstrated a clear bit of learning from the disappointing defeat at Northampton, when in a similar situation May failed to get past Ben Foden with a kick after not backing himself on pace.
This got the home crowd going, who have only seen one defeat at Kingsholm in the whole of 2015, which was an unlucky and close reversal to early league leaders Saracens back in October. Kingsholm is returning to a fortress, albeit a slightly quieter one than in previous years, but it is vital that Gloucester win their home games and make it a place that visiting teams fear.
The Cherry and Whites also managed to set a new Challenge Cup record, with this game being their 13th win in a row in the second-tier European competition. Proof if it were needed that Gloucester should be at a higher level but do not have the week-in-week-out consistency needed for the cutthroat Premiership competition. The game against Harlequins on the 27th December could therefore be a very significant match that defines the rest of the season. A win for Gloucester would be a big statement given Quins’ good start, and it would mark a big improvement from the poor performances away at Wasps and Northampton. Also it looks like the Twickenham club could be Gloucester’s biggest threat as they bid to retain the Challenge Cup, so it would be a good psychological blow were the two to meet in the later stages of that competition.
The two results and performances against Worcester have given me some renewed optimism about forthcoming games, if nothing else showing that we have a good strength-in-depth and that squad morale will be on the up. But this will mean little if the momentum is not carried forward over Christmas and into the New Year, but the squad should have the belief that things are slowly but surely moving in the right direction.