Formed in 1873, Gloucester is one of the most prestigious rugby clubs in the world.

They have finished top of the English Premiership table three times, losing in the playoffs on each occasion. Gloucester did win the playoffs in 2002. Sadly for them, 2002 was the last year that league standings decided the champions. As a result, Gloucester has never been crowned champions of England.

In fact, they are probably the biggest club in England never to have been the champions. The cherry and whites have done well in Europe though. They won the second tier Challenge Cup in 2006 and have reached the semi-finals of the old top tier Heineken Cup.

New Coach

In recent years, Gloucester has been an inconsistent, mid-table side. This year Johan Ackermann took over and initial results have been promising. Ackermann previously coached the Lions in Super Rugby, where he took them from basement battlers to double finalists. He also developed a number of characteristics in his team. His Lions had:

  • A formidable home ground at altitude in the 62,567 capacity Emirates Airline Park.
  • Fantastic team spirit and togetherness, as demonstrated in the comeback against the Hurricanes and the near comeback, while a man down, against the Crusaders in last year’s final.
  • Fast tempo, involving quick line-outs and tap penalties. The Lions have a willingness to run from anywhere and a focus on quick ruck ball.
  • Outstanding fitness, again shown in the comebacks against the Hurricanes and Crusaders.
  • Big ball carrying forwards, such as Malcolm Marx and Ruan Ackermann.
  • Influential running scrum-halves in Ross Cronje and Faf de Klerk.
  • Several turnover specialists in the pack, most obviously Malcolm Marx, Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith.
The hugely influential Ross Cronjé for the Lions.
©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix / www.photosport.nz

Transformation?

Gloucester has shown signs that the change of coach is taking effect. In some areas, they are even beginning to resemble the Lions. They have:

  • A fortress of a home ground; the 16,115 capacity Kingsholm.
  • Much improved togetherness and team spirit. This can be seen in the defensive effort against Saracens and the late comeback against Bath. The signing of Ed Slater also appears to be influential here.
  • A faster tempo, one example being the quick lineout which led to Jeremy Thrush’s score against Newcastle.
  • Influential running scrum-halves in Willie Heinz and Ben Vellacott.
  • Gloucester also have Ackermann’s son Ruan at number 8.

Lions clones?

Ackermann does not have the right kind of players to turn Gloucester into a Lions clone though. One major difference is the type of centres available. Gloucester has second playmakers such as Owen Williams and Billy Twelvetrees. They have pacey players like Henry Trinder. What they don’t have is players like Rohan Janse Van Rensburg or Lionel Mapoe. Lacking centres who can win collisions and get over the gainline will force Gloucester to attack differently to the Lions.

Local hero Billy Twelvetrees.
By Clément Bucco-Lechat, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike the Lions, Gloucester lacks turnover specialists in the pack. On the floor, Richard Hibbard and Motu Matu’u are not in the same league as Malcolm Marx. They have hard carrying flankers like Ross Moriarty, but nobody like Kwagga Smith or Jaco Kriel.

Prospects

Gloucester certainly has the players and resources to regain their status as a major player in English rugby. They have made a good start under Johan Ackermann and look like being playoff contenders in the Aviva Premiership this year. There is clearly a lot of room for improvement too. The men from Kingsholm can, therefore, be very confident about the future.

Author: Daniel Pugsley

I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Daniel thanks for the article.

    I have a lot of respect for Johan Ackermann on how he turned a team that was dropped from Super Rugby and in the space of a handful of years to the Super Final twice.
    I feel his greatest gift to his team is togetherness (Not sure if that is the right word) but it is more about the play off the ball, getting up for the players around you and tackling again.

    At the start the Lions did not have any X factor players, but he created a culture (Damn I hate saying that word seems to be used a lot) where a team can be better than its individual parts.

    I have watched a few Gloucester games and the results of late speak for themselves, something is happening.

    We have had a lot more Aviva games aired locally in South Africa, and I enjoy the games for a completely different reason to Super Rugby. It seems the games are a lot more competitive, but in Super Rugby we are pretty used to losing to New Zealand sides.

    • Hi Donovan, it’s great you get to see Premiership games over there, what do you think of the standard? It’s an unusually even league. Worcester can go to Welford Road and win, but the rough equivalent would be the Rebels beating the Hurricanes in Wellington. That finished 71-6 this year!

      Right now I think Gloucester are in a battle with Bath and my team Leicester for 4th place. It’s a huge improvement on last year. You wouldn’t say the squad is any stronger on paper, and lots of other teams have improved. It speaks highly of the work Ackermann is doing that they are so much better.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    I agree and just want to add my thoughts on the Gloucester Rugby’s future.

    As a long suffering Gloucester supporter it’s nice that Gloucester to finally start to perform much closer to their actual potential and I agree this is no small part to influence of the Johan Ackerman and unity and consistency he has brought to the current squad.,

    Johan has actually achieved a lot IMHO with this side hopefully achieving a possible top 6 finish, even top 4 finish is possible (although the final run in will be very tough opposition and away games) Fingers crossed.

    He has achieved with a side with practically no “superstars” or current internationals and Gloucester actually lost some very big names last season including: Jonny May, Greig Laidlaw, James Hook, Matt Kvesic and Sione Kalamafoni just to name a few. Most premiership sides would really struggle losing that sort of quality leaving at the same time.

    Just imagine what could be achieved had those players stayed….

    With another predicted 10 to 14 players leaving at the end Season this is could just be the start of the major transformation (hopefully for the better) and only one confirmed signing Matt Banahan, but IMO it will really depend on the quality of the new signings Gloucester bring in.

    As it stands they probably need at least 2 x Props, 2 x Hookers, 1 x Lock, 1 x Back Row and another specialist Centre and ideally another top class Flyhalf with Owen Williams struggling to find his feet and game time at Gloucester and Billy still being pretty young.

    Full name Transfer Status Injury Status Position
    Matt Scott Leaving CEN
    Matt Banahan Joining 2018 CEN
    David Tevita Halaifonua Tonga Leaving? WG/FB
    Ross Moriarty Leaving FL,8TH
    Jacob Rowan Leaving FL,8TH
    Motu Matu’u Leaving HK
    Richard Hibbard Leaving HK
    Charlie Beckett Leaving LK
    Tom Denton Leaving LK
    Jeremy Thrush Leaving LK
    Mariano Galarza Leaving? LK
    John Afoa Leaving PR
    Cameron Orr Leaving PR

    I think we will be looking at a pretty different GLoucester squad at the start of the next season and hopefully one that will be even stronger and can really compete for silverware at the highest level in one of the most competitive Rugby leagues in the world.

  3. Hi Regan, thanks for the comment! I totally agree with you, the squad is in the middle of a huge overhaul and despite losing many of their best players Gloucester have improved. That shows the potential of the coaching setup and the team. Like you I think much of what happens next will depend on the quality of recruitment. If you can add the right kind of players, and hopefully bring through a few more academy products, Gloucester could be challengers. With so much personnel change I would say Gloucester’s year might be 2020/21 to give them a year to settle as a team, but the future is bright for you guys!

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