Last season couldn’t have gone much worse for the west country side, so it’s out with the old and in with the new, and the sun is shining on the Shed again. Well, let’s not get carried away just yet. This sort of massive upheaval always has a few aftershocks, and it won’t be until mid-season until we see the real fruits of labour starting to grow.
On paper the side didn’t look that bad last season, hence the great culling. Freddie Burns pretty well packed it in mid-season. Nigel Davies was calmly shown the door at the end. Will James, Andy Hazell, Mike Tindall and now James Simpson-Daniel have hung up their boots. Huia Edmonds, Rupert Harden, and Jimmy Cowan were tossed in the scrap heap.
Club chairman Ryan Walkinshaw appears to have got his man in Ulster legend David Humphreys, and with him scruffy Brumbies taskmaster Laurie Fisher. Add in a half dozen international stars and IPA Championship standouts and you have a pretty good looking recipe for success. Now to put the parts in motion.
Forward power has long been a trademark at the club, which makes last year’s abysmal showing all the more embarrassing. Lions tourist Richard Hibbard and former Ulster strongman John Afoa should put an immediate halt to their scrum issues, and behind them Tom Palmer boasts tremendous experience while Mariano Galarza should prove a very useful addition when he returns from Argentina duties, particularly in the lineout. Elliott Stooke was a bright light amidst the darkness last season and the big lad looks very much a future international himself.
Goal kicking was another problem, with Burns the primary culprit, so Greig Laidlaw has come down from Edinburgh. In arguably a bigger coup, James Hook has arrived via Perpignan. Billy Twelvetrees has been handed the captaincy after assuming it for much of last season anyway, and his combination with Hook is something of a mouthwatering proposition once they get more acquainted with each other.
On paper it’s almost night and day, but sadly, as last year so painfully illuminated, the game isn’t played on paper. Don’t be surprised to see the team start slowly. They’ll suffer some disruptions with the November tests and then the Six Nations, but by the end of the season they should have a compelling for most improved side. Unfortunately they don’t give out awards for that, and their mid-table finish won’t reflect the turn around. Come next season, however, watch out.
Technically speaking it’s Fisher who is the head coach, but Humphreys is the man running the show. After 20-odd years of association with Ulster it was a real surprise to hear that he had left. Ravenhill’s loss is Kingsholm’s gain, and after turning around the Irish province’s fortunes he looks just the man for the job.
By mid-October it was being whispered that Tom Savage’s appointment had come too soon in his young career. When he broke down in November it was almost a relief in a sense that the more natural choice of Twelvetrees would then take over. After a patient ascent through club and country ranks, he is finally showing his obvious class, both as a footballer and as a leader.
Gloucester are blessed with two beasts of considerable proportion in the back row, this fella being the slightly larger one. There are few more fearsome sights with ball in hand than the titanic Tongan, and his tackles seem to shake the spectators as much as the players. Immensely popular with supporters and teammates alike, let’s see what the big man can do behind a more competitive pack.
The little halfback scared off not one, but two internationals last season as Tavis Knoyle tucked tail and fled back across the Severn, while Jimmy Cowan was politely asked not to re-apply for the position. Not bad for a 22 year old only just beginning to knock on England’s door. If Greig Laidlaw thinks he’ll be able to coast with Robson at his heels, he’d better think again.
It was a massive statement of intent when it was announced that Afoa was to wear cherry and white. Consistently one of the premier tightheads in European rugby, the former All Black has more than proven his worth since coming north. Still only 30 and with four years to run on his contract, it looks like it will be some time before anyone speaks of a weak Gloucester scrum again.
IN – Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), John Afoa (Ulster), Tom Palmer (Wasps), Mariano Galarza (Worcester), Jacob Rowan (Leeds), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), James Hook (Perpignan), Aled Thomas (Scarlets), Mark Atkinson (Bedford), Tom Isaacs (Ospreys), Stevie McColl (Leeds)
OUT – Huia Edmonds (Narbonne), Rupert Harden (Treviso), Will James (retired), Matt Cox (Worcester), Jimmy Cowan (Tasman), Tavis Knoyle (Cardiff Blues), Freddie Burns (Leicester), Ryan Mills (Worcester), Mike Tindall (retired), James Simpson-Daniel (retired), Martyn Thomas (London Irish)