Even after Saracens’ record defeat to Wasps the previous week, only the most optimistic of Gloucester fans could have hoped for a victory at Allianz Park. However when Schalk Brits was red carded for punching Nick Wood in the first half there was a genuine chance of an upset. So for the Cherry and Whites to finish on the end of a 25-12 scoreline, without even a losing bonus point there is reason to be dissatisfied. After the match Gloucester and New Zealand second row Jeremy Thrush spoke out and he offered some candid remarks to the local press. The All Black questioned the squad’s pre-match attitude, saying he and his teammates needed to “sort out the way we go during the week and way we prepare”, and “take a good look at ourselves”. Most interestingly he then added that “management need to do a bit of that as well”.
There has been a building narrative around Gloucester Rugby ever since Director of Rugby David Humphreys and Head Coach Laurie Fisher came in during summer 2014, which has promised continuous progress to reposition the team as a top Premiership side. In games such as the toothless displays against Northampton and Wasps this season it has been difficult for fans to believe progress is being made, with all too familiar PR soundbites being exercised after matches. This refreshingly honest reflection from Thrush has been welcomed by some supporters who believe that the management rhetoric is disguising another season where the team is underachieving. Being an All Black, Thrush comes from a winning background and an environment that breeds success. Therefore his views should be taken at more than face value, particularly as he has only been at the club for a few months.
Even at Gloucester’s peak under Dean Ryan, it was their attitude and mentality that let them down when it mattered, most notably in the Premiership play-offs against Leicester in both 2007 and 2008. The most frustrating thing is that despite virtually the entire playing and coaching squad being different it still seems like there is a psychological barrier to success. As the Saracens game demonstrated, even with a numerical advantage and coming off the back of two good victories, Gloucester were unable to adapt their gameplan to the situation and ended up comfortably beaten. On the other hand, it is the players who need to take responsibility for the performance and no amount of coaching and management can prevent errors made on the pitch, or indeed prevent the Saracens scrum from demolishing Gloucester in the second half.
A glance at Gloucester’s last four matches tells a familiar and frustrating story; a last-second defeat to Leicester in a game that should have been safe, followed by two good performances against Bath and Harlequins that raises hopes followed by the crash at Saracens. This inconsistency in performance from week to week points to a weak mental state, and Jeremy Thrush’s honest assessment will hopefully galvanise the group of players who have more self-belief and conviction regardless of who they are playing.