Dave Ellis' weekly update looks at the weekend's Heineken Cup action and the closing weeks of the season for Gloucester.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
Now the Six Nations competition has reached it's ultimate conclusion, the focus changes to the European and domestic competitions this weekend. This is the business end of the season and the teams who are able to sustain good form in this period can reap the rewards by collecting coveted silverware.
Wasps illustrated this last season with their exceptional double. They began the season in average form by their standards, built impetus mid season and finished at their peak.
The English teams remaining in the Heineken Cup appear to be struggling and I believe will find it tough this weekend. Northampton travel to Toulouse who annihilated Brive 71-3 on Saturday, a bear pit of a place to play and you would have to fancy the French side to progress to the semi finals.
Newcastle visit Stade Francais and I have already had several conversations with my good friend Fabien Galthie - picking my brains about the north east side. It might not be such the forgone conclusion as some pundits are predicting, as Stade start the game with the memory of a 41-3 flogging last weekend at the hands of Biarritz Olympique.
Leicester, the English team with probably the best opportunity, play Leinster at Lansdowne Road. Unfortunately the Tigers appear to have peaked a little too early and their form appears shaky as the defeat against Leeds showed.
Although Munster will be no pushover it will be even more difficult without the trusty boot of Ronan O'Gara and again I would expect the Basque team to make the final four.
Looking at the current form of the challengers, I believe the eventual winners of the competition will be either Biarritz or Toulouse. Both are in great form and stand second and third respectively in the Top 16 in France.
With only three remaining fixtures Gloucester have an outside chance of making the top three. We entertain Leeds, week after next at Kingsholm and must aim to gain a bonus point against the Tykes. That would leave us well positioned to scrap it out with Sale away and finally Saracens at home. It's important to finish the season well, and as far up the table as possible in order to gain a 'wild card' position for next year's European Cup qualification.
Last weekend's victory away at London Irish was extremely important and will undoubtedly build the team's confidence. I was generally pleased with our defensive work; despite being a little undisciplined in the first half by conceding four kickable penalties. The hit by Seti Kiole on Geoff Appleford was worth the entrance fee alone!
Our young half back partnership in Brad Davies at fly half and Alex Page at scrum half worked effectively, and with our more experienced players out with long term injuries, it gives these two players a real opportunity to stake a claim for more regular appearances.
Gloucester have an extremely youthful squad with players such as Andy Hazell, Alex Brown, Adam Balding, Adam Eustace, James Forrester, Terry Sigley, Nick Wood, Jon Goodridge, Marcel Garvey and James Simpson-Daniel all in their early to mid twenties.
In addition, half back Ryan Lamb has been outstanding for England Under 18s, James Merriman is skipper of the Welsh juniors and Olly Morgan's selection at England Under 21 level is proof of him developing into an accomplished player.
Unfortunately this season many of our more influential performers such as Phil Vickery, Olivier Azam and Duncan McRae have been out with injury. The blend of youth and experience in the team has been missing and the recruitment of individual's the calibre of Mike Tindall along with this healthy trio will make us much more competitive.
Mefin Davies has been an excellent acquisition by the club and I am delighted we have secured his services on a new two-year contract. His season more than anything illustrate what an unpredictable game we are involved in.
Following the liquidation of the Celtic Warriors, Mefin found himself unemployed, joined Neath on a semi professional basis before joining Gloucester as a response to our hooking injury crisis. As a result of some exceptional displays in the Autumn internationals and for Gloucester he found himself selected for Wales in the Six Nations, being an essential part of this year's outstanding Grand Slam team and likely to be chosen for the Lions tour. Incredible and without sounding too sickly, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke!
In the second episode in the series of videos where Gloucester Rugby TV chat to box holders at Kingsholm, after they note twenty years as owners of a box. Nick Broady of Avenue Cars and Paul Baldwin of Brunsdons chat to the camera about their memories and about rugby in general.
Gary Jones of Glevum Windows and Conservatories recently visited Kingsholm Stadium and the Cherry and White supporter spoke exclusively to Gloucester Rugby TV after marking two decades as a box holder in the Stowford Press Stand at Kingsholm. A great feat!
Speaking to the local media this week during preseason, new hooker Richard Hibbard said he was really enjoying putting in the hard work and being back to full fitness ahead of the 2014-15 season with the Cherry and Whites.
Nick Walshe was unveiled as Gloucester's new Backs and Attack Coach this week and spoke to Simon Ward for the RFU.com podcast about his excitement at joining Gloucester and working with a new group of players.
Speaking after the Third Test defeat to New Zealand, Ben Morgan told RFU.com that the loss was a disappointing way to sign off the summer tour but that the England team know what they have to do to be successful.
At the end of a tour when there have been so many positives for England, fly half Freddie Burns, who will start the third Test against New Zealand, was clear that the whole squad are focussed on signing off with a memorable win when he spoke to RFU.com
Speaking to Steve Jones of RFU.com straight after the 27-28 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, Billy Twelvetrees spoke of the frustration of a missed opportunity, but stressed that England would lick their wounds and bounce back.
Freddie Burns contributed 12 points in England's 20-15 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday but, speaking after the game to RFU.com, preferred to talk about the many positives in the performance from Stuart Lancaster's side.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan put in a great individual performance as England were just pipped by New Zealand by 20 points to 15 in Auckland on Saturday. He told Steve Jones of RFU.com that the team will be in good spirits going into the 2nd Test in Dunedin.
Tickets are selling fast for the Premiership Rugby 7s at Kingsholm on Thursday 31 July, so to guarantee your ticket for the return of the action at the 2014-15 season's curtain raiser, the ticket office are opening late on Wednesday evening.
Thursday evening sees the return of live action to Kingsholm in the form of the Premiership Rugby 7s and the Cherry and Whites have named an exciting squad ready to take on Bath Rugby, Exeter Chiefs and London Irish in Pool B.