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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.