Gloucester and France defence coach Dave Ellis looks at this week's Lions developments and last week's defeat to Leeds and what's in store for Kingsholm fans in the near future.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
The Lions squad announced earlier this week included many of the victorious England World Cup team and there were very few surprises in the selection. I have sympathy with the raft of Gloucester players who failed to make cut for various reasons, such as Mefin Davies, Phil Vickery, Andy Hazell and Andy Gomarsall.
Clive Woodward and the Lions management team face a bit of a dilemma as they board the plane for New Zealand. This year's Six Nations competition saw a successful Welsh team playing an expansive game that relied heavily on the counter attack. In direct contrast the England World Cup winning side played a 'containing' game based around an exceptional pack of forwards and inparticular the outstanding back row of Hill, Dallaglio and Back. Behind the forwards they had the mercurial points machine, Jonny Wilkinson, whose accurate kicking ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over.
Two totally different styles of rugby. If Woodward opts for the Welsh approach it will undoubtedly provide opportunities for the All Blacks' outstanding back three of Malili Muliaina, Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko, who as we saw from England's last excursion to the land of the long white cloud, embarrassed a flat-footed defence. On the other hand, do Clive's old soldiers still have the capability to outplay the likes of Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo. And can Stephen Jones step into the boots of Jonny Wilkinson?
It will be a fascinating series, but with many of the New Zealanders reaching their peak in terms of performance levels and the English contingent on the other end of the cycle, I expect the Lions to struggle to match the intensity of the All Blacks.
On the domestic front Gloucester's defeat at the weekend by Leeds at Kingsholm ending our hopes of a top three placing, and has led to the same type of hysteria I experienced in this year's Six Nations with France and Bernard Laporte.
The defeat at the weekend and our performances in general this season have not been to the standard we would have hoped, but we need to put the situation into perspective and consider the long term future.
We have been hit hard by injuries to key performers, the likes of Phil Vickery, Duncan McRae, Henry Paul, Olivier Azam and James Simpson-Daniel. Many of these experienced players have been badly missed at critical stages of the season.
Looking back at the 2002-2003 season under Nigel Melville, Gloucester won the Powergen Cup and finished the season at the top of the Zurich Premiership. Over the following season we worked with a dramatically reduced squad and Nigel Melville and Dean Ryan, two of the most outstanding coaches in the country, spent time developing and blooding a host of younger players.
The club now has some exceptional young talent, the likes of Andy Hazell, Alex Brown, Adam Balding, Adam Eustace, James Forrester, Terry Sigley, Nick Wood, Jon Goodridge, Marcel Garvey and James Simpson-Daniel. In addition we have Ryan Lamb, James Merriman, Olly Morgan and a whole raft of talented juniors.
Kingsholm is being redeveloped and a new stand will be built, providing additional capacity and revenue. We are in the process of moving our training operation to state of the art facilities at Hartpury College to create a more professional environment.
The foundations for the future at Gloucester rugby club are being put into place by the coaching and business management of the club.
Currently, we are not a top three team and are experiencing a transitional stage in our development, however I expect players to develop and if we choose the right type of imports, create a blend of youth and experience, we will bring success to the club.
Remember, there are many quality teams below Gloucester in the Premiership, scrapping out relegation and teams above us who have a large numbers of older players reaching retirement age. I believe rugby tends to go in cycles and I expect many of our players will peak over the next few years.
Speaking to GRTV after the 40-29 Aviva A League win over Wasps Rugby, Academy Coach Rich Whiffin explained his pride in the squad to overcome a strong opponent and book their spot in next week's Aviva A League final.
Willi Heinz returned from injury to skipper Gloucester to a famous 16-14 win over Stade Rochelais on Saturday evening. Speaking after the game in France, Heinz admitted the win wasn't pretty but was full of courage and a great result for the club.
Billy Burns contributed all Gloucester's points in the 16-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup win in La Rochelle on Saturday evening, but dedicated the victory to the whole squad whilst also praising the travelling support.
Speaking after Gloucester's brave 16-14 win against Stade Rochelais which clinches a European Rugby Challenge Cup final spot, Director of Rugby David Humphreys paid tribute to the way the team had executed the game plan in a hostile environment against quality opposition.
Greig Laidlaw returns to the Gloucester Rugby squad this week, and his inclusion is an important one after a serious ankle injury. The Scottish scrum half is determined to drive the team forward in their European Rugby Challenge Cup semi final in La Rochelle this Saturday.
Gloucester take on La Rochelle in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final in France on Saturday evening, with the Top 14 side the favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers. However, David Humphreys is looking for his side to rise to the occasion against a familiar opponent.
Speaking to GRTV after Saturday's 39-30 Aviva Premiership win over Sale, Mark Atkinson admitted that the performance wasn't perfect but that the team's character shone through in a game that could easily have slipped away.
Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw is targeting a 'unique' finish to his Gloucester tenure in the European Rugby Challenge Cup final at the venue where his professional playing career began, BT Murrayfield Stadium (Friday 12 May).