David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher are the last people who need to be told that it is a crucial season for Gloucester Rugby. The Cherry and Whites move into their third season under this management duo and need to demonstrate significant improvement. The 33-12 victory over Glasgow Warriors is a promising start to the season. But what have they actually achieved so far?
Humphreys and Fisher have yet to deliver Champions Cup rugby which hasn’t been seen at Kingsholm since 2013/14. This has to be number one priority this season. The days of Gloucester topping the league under Dean Ryan feel like distant nostalgia. The club has had to adjust to a new norm but fans are not unreasonable in expecting more than mid to lower table in the Aviva Premiership. With the cheapest seats at Kingsholm now costing £33 and TV scheduling disrupting the fixture list more and more, supporters are looking for some return on investment.
Gloucester supporters certainly cannot be accused of being economic mercenaries however. They loyally assemble for even unattractive Challenge Cup fixtures on cold Thursday nights. The attendance is very rarely below 10,000 at Kingsholm, the maximum crowd champions Saracens can attract on a good day.
So what can Humphreys do as Director of Rugby? There has been a clear plan since he arrived to sort out the off field operations with the Irishman bringing in his preferred coaches such as Jonny Bell. This summer has seen a relatively quiet recruitment period, especially compared to recent years. Club stalwarts such as Nick Wood have departed but international experience has arrived in key positions. This includes Scotland centre Matt Scott and Samoa hooker Motu Matu’u. Further recruits from Super Rugby like Josh Hohneck add to the growing contingent of New Zealanders with a winning attitude. This has been embodied by Jeremy Thrush and Tom Marshall, providing a core that the club previously lacked.
The coaches now have a squad they can call their own. It showed promise last weekend against Leinster in the first pre-season game, with Scott impressing, setting up a try for an improved David Halaifonua. Then on Friday night a strong first half defensive performance and some clinical finishing saw fives tries put past Glasgow. For both of these games the coaches named a different XV for each half. Does this suggest they don’t know their best team? Over-rotation was a feature of the failed Nigel Davies regime. With Leicester up first in the Premiership, Gloucester have to be on the ball from game one. Pleasingly though the same side reappeared for the second half against Glasgow. A bit of Eddie Jones-style acknowledgement of a failed plan and immediate adjustment.
The final key ingredient that needs serious attention is self-belief. The Premiership becomes more competitive every year. The promotion of Bristol means Gloucester will have heavy West Country rivalry throughout the season as well more games in the Anglo-Welsh Cup to deal with.
Gloucester’s five match losing streak in March and April ruined their season against teams they should have beaten. This above anything else is what frustrates their supporters. Victories over Wasps and Exeter Chiefs around this period demonstrated their capabilities. But it appeared that the squad simply did not believe it could win six seven games in a row and storm into the top six.
Ultimately these three aspects, consistency, stability and self-belief will be judged this season by league position. Anything less than top six and at least quarter finals of the Challenge Cup will be unsatisfactory to all. It is no doubt going to be another rollercoaster of a season at Kingsholm. Humphreys and Fisher should strap in tight.