Gloucester’s Resurgence Continues – Now to Tackle the Tigers!

Gloucester Head Coach George Skivington in Exeter, England
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As we fast approach the business end of the season, the big games keep coming. None more so than this weekend at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, where league leaders Leicester Tigers take on old rivals Gloucester, who for many are the surprise package this season. So as Gloucester’s resurgence continues, I look at why and look ahead to the mouth-watering clash this weekend.

Gloucester’s Resurgence Looks to Continue

Background

Gloucester is now bearing the fruits of the hard work put in by a Management Team led by Head Coach George Skivington, that joined the club in June 2020, with the aim of getting Gloucester back towards the top of the table. Skivington was joined as Head Coach by former Wasps teammates Alex King as Attack Coach and Dom Waldouck as Defence Coach. Given the history of all three men at Wasps, it is fair to say that they brought large amounts of knowledge and toughness with them to help get the club back up the table to where they want to be.

It is also fair to say that it has taken time for Skivington’s plans and methods to bed in. Gloucester had, by their standards, a hugely disappointing season in 2020-2021, with the club finishing 11th out of 12, with only seven victories mustered. However, they were also a club that fell foul of the regulations concerning Covid postponements, with two games going against them. They were also a club that whilst racked up many defeats – 15 in total – they also picked up plenty of losing bonus points too. As a result, probably showing they were never that far off the pace throughout.

Predictions for Gloucester Heading into the 2021-22 Season

Going into this season, they were not a club that was being mentioned as being in the running for higher honours, with many predicting a mid-table finish including I suspect many of their own fans. However, Gloucester’s resurgence has been fantastic this season with them currently sitting fourth in the table as they travel to Leicester to face the Tigers. Their season started slowly, with the first two games leading to two defeats against Northampton and Tigers, causing fears that the club would be in for another season of struggle.

However, those two defeats spurred the team into action, with October seeing the club record four wins from five games, springboarding them up the table. Strong victories away at Saracens and at Wasps have followed as the club has shown far greater consistency than before, and compared to other clubs who started the season with Play-Off aspirations.

Gloucester’s Resurgence Explained

From an outsider’s perspective like myself, the reason for Gloucester’s resurgence comes in the form of their pack. Skivington, like Steve Borthwick at Tigers, has gone back to basics and worked on building the foundations based upon a tough, gnarly and uncompromising pack of forwards. This is now being seen in the results and performances on the pitch. Gloucester now has probably one of the best packs in the league and has built a rolling maul that is the envy of many. Their victory away at Bath (seen above with Gloucester’s Jordy Reid) earlier in the season saw one of the most clinical driving maul performances you will see. Albeit, Bath that day did not show up much defence, but in truth, numerous teams would have struggled with Gloucester, as they pushed and swatted Bath aside quite easily.

Players on the Gloucester’s Roster

One look at the names that Skivington has at his disposal tells you the story of why Gloucester’s pack is so effective. Consistent Premiership performers such as Jamal Ford-Robinson and Ed Slater are combined with the likes of Matias Alemanno and Jordy Reid. Combine that with Captain Lewis Ludlow and a revived Ruan Ackermann, the latter now being touted for International honours, and you have a pack that is disciplined and one that fully deserves the recognition it is getting. Skivington has taken a group of forwards that had appeared to be underachieving and has completely turned it around.

Clever Recruitment by Gloucester

In addition, clever recruitment has also taken place, with Jack Singleton from Saracens looking a very clever move and has been a consistent performer for the Cherry and Whites. The combination of good recruitment and good coaching has been one that has been successful for numerous teams over the years, it now looks like Gloucester are the latest to benefit as their improvement attests.

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Another area where Gloucester has been hurting opposition teams has been in their depth of talent out wide. This is an area of the pitch where the team has an abundance of riches. Johnny May returned in 2020, joining fellow speedsters Olly Thorley and Louis Rees-Zammit. Opposition teams are now well aware that if they leave any space unprotected, Gloucester have the armoury to exploit it.

Indeed, Rees-Zammit’s try away to Newcastle is probably a try of the season contender. Inside, Gloucester are again building a talented group to help create chances for these men, as well as contribute towards a strong kicking game to pressurise opponents. Adam Hastings and Lloyd Evans are rapidly improving as they battle it out for the 10 shirts, being joined by Premiership Stalwart Billy Twelvetrees and Mark Atkinson, whose terrific form has now seen him receive a call-up to Eddie Jones’ England squad.

A Fan’s Perspective

So as an outsider, it looks like Gloucester’s resurgence is built on a tough pack of forwards, battering their opponents into submission, backed up with a strong kicking game and an electrifying set of backs that can cause a lot of damage. But is there anything else that is contributing towards their strong form? Well, I happened to ask a friend of mine, a long-standing fan of the Cherry and Whites and asked for his perspective. Well, he also spoke about the rolling maul and what an important weapon it is for the team. However, he also spoke about another couple of areas.

Firstly, the defence, as mentioned, now led by Dom Waldouck, was highlighted as a major feature in the club’s turnaround. The team’s defence was described as being “confident” and “disciplined”, as well as being “happy to go through multiple phases until an opportunity to strike arises”.

In addition, consistency was pointed out as being a key component in Gloucester’s resurgence and their rise up the table. Both in terms of the coaching staff having time to allow their plans and methods to bed in, as well as maintaining the playing group too. This means, there “is an element of continuity that wasn’t present in harder times.” Where Gloucester is benefitting, especially in the forwards, is a consistency of selection as their international call ups in the Six Nations are mainly in their backline. As a result, this allows them to keep that playing group tight, where everyone knows their roles and what is required. It also allows the group to keep the rhythm of playing which helps generate momentum and grind out results.

This Weekend

What makes Saturday’s game at 10:00 A.M. ET on the road so fascinating and exciting is that there are numerous similarities between Leicester and Gloucester, both on and off the pitch. As a result, it is hard to think of many games where the two opposing teams are so well-matched. It, therefore, makes making a prediction for how the game will go nigh on impossible!

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Both Borthwick and Skivington have been in charge of their clubs for similar amounts of time, with both joining during the height of the Pandemic in 2020. They took over clubs that had underachieved for the majority of recent seasons, especially true for Leicester. Also, the two head coaches have focussed on building the foundations of their game upon a menacing pack, and using Academy graduates where possible.

Both teams have used clever recruitment, Leicester more so than most; and with good coaching have improved the quality of their squads in the two years both have been in charge. Off the pitch, both clubs have long and proud histories, with large, loyal fanbases yearning for success. Indeed it will be a terrific battle on the pitch at the weekend, with a loud and passionate atmosphere on the terraces.

Gloucester’s Resurgence Looks to Continue Against Leicester

This is certainly going to be a keenly fought battle, between two clubs who have turned around their fortunes, with possibly the two best forward packs going hammer and tongs at each other. Gloucester’s resurgence has ensured they go into the game in strong form, though, as this weekend’s clash with the league leaders will be a perfect test for them to judge their progress. As for a match prediction,  this certainly falls into the “too close to call” category, however, what is certain, is that there will be no lack of commitment from either side. It should be a terrific game.

 

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