Looking back on the David Humphreys Gloucester era

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Gloucester Rugby announced on the June 2 that the David Humphreys era was coming to an end. He has been Director of Rugby for six years at Kingsholm but departs soon after Johan Ackermann agreed a move to Japan.

James Barker looks back at his time at Kingsholm and examines how it will be remembered.

Three Challenge Cup final appearances

Gloucester’s success in the last six years has been primarily in Europe. The Cherry and Whites defeated Edinburgh to win the Challenge Cup in Humphreys’ first season, suggesting greater things were to come.

A shock defeat to Newport-Gwent Dragons in the 2015/16 quarter-finals ended any chance of silverware in David Humphreys’ second season. However, some memorable performances in 2016/17 took Gloucester back to the final at Murrayfield. An early Jonny May try raised hopes but eventually Stade Français came out on top.

Then in 2017/18 Gloucester made it all the way to finals weekend in Bilbao after thrilling knockout wins against Connacht and Newcastle. Sadly they were denied in agonising fashion by the Cardiff Blues; however, Champions Cup qualification was secured through this cup run.

Tough times with Laurie Fisher

David Humphreys arrived at Gloucester from Ulster in the summer of 2014, after the departure of Nigel Davies. The Welshman was dismissed after a disappointing ninth placed finish in his second season in charge.

He was joined by Laurie Fisher as Head Coach in a new, duel coaching structure. Humphreys was the Director of Rugby, dealing with off-field matters such as contracts and squad management. Fisher was the coach out on the paddock, devising tactics and selecting the team. A new, long-term journey to success was anticipated.

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A first game 53-6 defeat to Champions Northampton was excused as teething problems. New big-name stars Richard Hibbard, John Afoa and James Hook were being integrated into the team and results picked up relatively quickly. Unfortunately there could be no improvement on ninth place, with four extra points earned on the previous season.

Big signings but little reward

Several New Zealanders including Jeremy Thrush, Willi Heinz, Tom Marshall and Josh Hohneck were brought in during the first few years. These were particularly astute signings by Humphreys as several were English qualified.

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Gloucester also signed several players from the Championship to great effect, including Mark Atkinson, Rob Cook, Jacob Rowan and Sione Kalimafoni.

However, league position and points per season barely budged in the first three years, and Laurie Fisher resigned towards the end of 2016/17. This was due to poor home form and ultimately due to several late defeats from commanding positions.

Much expectation in the Johan Ackermann years

The arrival of the much-revered Johan Ackermann in 2017 alongside David Humphreys brought renewed hope of success. Further impressive signings arrived, most notably Danny Cipriani and Franco Mostert. League performances improved to 7th and 3rd in Ackermann’s first two years and big things were expected of Gloucester in 2019/20.

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Under Humphreys, the coaching team became settled and defence in particular, under fellowe Ulsterman Jonny Bell, was becoming a notable strength. But by the time the season (hopefully) resumes, only Tim Taylor, Rory Teague and Trevor Woodman will remain.

David Humphreys Gloucester era ends

For the third time in four regimes, the Gloucester Head Coach has departed before the season end. The Cherry and Whites expect to name a new Head Coach before any possible resumption of the 2019/20 season. However there will be no direct replacement as Director of Rugby.

Should the season resume, Gloucester sit in the familiar ninth position. So arguably, no progress has been made it six years. Unfortunately, last year’s third place looks like an anomaly rather than an upward trend. Whoever comes in will face a perfect storm of a tightened financial situation, supporter frustration and little opportunity to shape the squad before next season.

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