Are Gloucester the most frustrating team in sport?
OPINION: From beating the champions on the opening day of the season to equalling their biggest ever Premiership defeat against Sale a few short weeks later, Gloucester must be the most frustrating team in the world to support.
They can raise their game every few matches to beat a big side but then they put in abject performances the next week. It was an embarrassing performance at the AJ Bell Stadium at the weekend.
Taking nothing away from the Sharks, who played reasonably well and took their chances, but Gloucester was ridiculously poor. They looked like they were lacking energy and there didn’t seem to be the will to play their hearts out for the shirt.
They had 62 percent of the possession against Sale on Friday and the same share of territory, forcing the Sharks to make 229 tackles but still lost 57-10. That means they really have to question how they’re attacking and why there is such a lack of cutting edge.
To dominate the possession and territory in a game to that extent but lose by 47 points is ludicrous and, as well as questioning the skillset of some of the players, the desire to even fight and chase back seemed non-existent for some of them.
Johan Ackermann was a tough, uncompromising second row as a player and, although he looks like a nice guy when he’s being interviewed, you can see that steel in his eyes and I’m sure he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I’ve no doubt they’ll be in for the worst training week of their lives this week.
I used to get a massive amount of stick at Kingsholm for obvious reasons but I gave as good as I got and I used to love playing there. I’ve got a lot of time for Gloucester fans and being one must be a real rollercoaster of emotions.
Ackermann has proven that he can improve a team after he took the Lions from a position of not even being in Super Rugby to winning a play-off to get back in 2013 and then reaching consecutive finals in 2016 and 2017.
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That is a seriously impressive feat and you can’t judge him on his first five games in the Premiership.
He arrived late due to his own success after his Lions played in the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in August. That was unfortunate for Gloucester as it might have set them back a couple of weeks. Culturally, there is a big difference though and it is going to take time for him to bed in.
Nobody can be pointing the finger at Ackermann. He’s still soaking up a completely different competition and outlook on how the game is played and he is still getting to know his team and what the strengths and weaknesses of his players are.
However, above him, you have to look at the direction the club has been going in recent years and ask some serious questions of those in charge. David Humphreys has been there as director of rugby since 2014 now and a few coaches have come and gone during his tenure, but above him there are even more issues.
There have been so many question marks over the ownership of the club in the past couple of years with them looking for further investment and coming close with Mohed Altrad before that fell through and that hasn’t helped either.
It’s a club that, from the outside, it seems is in disarray in terms of the direction it’s heading in off the field and that makes it really hard to achieve stability on the field and then confidence becomes a problem.
It’s nothing to do with coaching in relation to Ackermann but the leadership above that is the issue and, for me, that’s where the fans are being short-changed.
You look at certain clubs and you can identify the cultures within them. It’s very clear what Saracens are about and the same with Wasps and their style, Exeter and their strengths, Leicester’s traditions and so on but I can’t see what Gloucester has been building over the last six years.
They reached the Premiership semi-final before losing to Saracens in 2011 but have finished ninth in four of the six seasons since then.
It is the same every year. Everyone thinks they’ve got a decent squad and they should be above where they are but they always finish around eighth or ninth and flatter to deceive.
I think a lot of that is ingrained in their culture. In some games they seem to accept mediocrity or poor performance where other teams wouldn’t.
They spend very close to the full £7 million per year allowed by the salary cap and their squad spend is reportedly in the top four in the league.
Normally, you finish roughly where your investment in your players says you should but they aren’t getting the results, so there is something deeper wrong at the club culturally.
They are 10th in the Premiership at the moment. I’ve got no doubt that the relegation battle will be between Worcester and London Irish. Gloucester won’t be dragged into that because of the Kingsholm factor and they do have quality in that squad.
However, the inconsistency and lack of belief look likely to keep them in the bottom third of the table again and the best that they can hope for is a good run in the Challenge Cup and qualifying for the top tier of European competition by winning that.
Everyone got a bit caught up in the hype after the win over Exeter in the opening round but the Chiefs should have won that game and Gloucester were hanging on at the end in their only other win over Worcester. There’s no chance of them making a push for the top six.
A lot of the time you do get a big reaction the next week when you come off the back of a thrashing like they have and you only have to look at their opponents this Saturday for evidence of that.
Saints got an absolute hiding against Saracens and then physically dominated Leicester the following week and have really kicked on from there, so much so that they’re now top of the table. Gloucester will put in a much more committed performance this week but they won’t be top in a few weeks.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the changing room and the meeting room this week because there will be some no holds barred conversations going on.
By Andy Goode