Gloucester and France defence coach Dave Ellis looks back at recent goings-on at Kingsholm and previews the Heineken Cup semi-finals this weekend.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update (18-24 April)
A wet, miserable Friday in Stockport and our players worked exceptionally hard to get some sort of result, but in truth, despite all the effort displayed we were unable to match Sale's cutting edge in the three-quarters.
With Mark Cueto and Steve Hanley menacing on the flanks and the underrated duo of Jos Baxendale and Gloucester old boy Robert Todd running hard straight lines in the centres, they were simply too strong for our under strength back division.
In addition, the international half-back pairing of Bryan Redpath and Charlie Hodgson worked effectively, kicking well out of hand and at goal.
Undoubtedly, Friday's disappointing defeat further illustrated a lack of depth to our squad and the need to strengthen in the off-season. I recall a couple of seasons back when we trounced Leeds by 30 odd points, Nigel Melville had started the game with Patrice Collazo and Federico Pucciarello at props and just after half time he introduced Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman.
I remember looking across at the Leeds team and having sympathy with their front row, to replace two hardened international props for two more must have been extremely demoralising for the opposition. If you want to challenge at the highest level you need to build a strong squad.
We have had a quiet week this week to 'lick our wounds' and prepare for the final game against Saracens at Kingsholm. Let's hope we can end the season on a high and send everyone to the clubs and pubs in good spirits.
Come Saturday and Sunday, and the focus is back on Heineken Cup rugby and two epic encounters. Stade Francais meet Biarritz at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday and Leicester entertain Toulouse on Sunday at the less glamorously named Walkers stadium.
Stade Francais certainly have the capability of beating Biarritz, they proved that by defeating them at Stade Jean-Bouin in the French league, but on the return at Aguilera were well beaten by the Basque side. Key to Stade's success will be David Skrela who picked up an injury in the weekend win over Castres Olympique and Jerome Fillol remains on standby. They also have worries over Brian Liebenberg with an ankle injury and Sylvan Marconnet has been spared training this week due to a sore back.
Biarritz too have their own mounting injury problems. Argentine centre Martin Gaitan is definitely out of the game having suffered ruptured knee ligaments in the 24-18 victory over Brive. He is likely to be replaced by fellow Argentine Federico Martin-Aramburu or talented French junior Guillaume Boussès. In addition, exciting wingers Jimmy Marlu (thigh) and Jean-Baptiste Gobelet (ankle) face late fitness tests before boarding the plane to Paris.
It will be a mighty tussle in Paris on Saturday, if Skrela doesn't make the starting line up, you would have to fancy Biarritz to make it through to Edinburgh.
The other semi featuring the Tigers and the competition's favourite Toulouse is also mouth watering. Again, much will depend on injuries and suspensions. Leicester's battle at Saracens has resulted in Martin Corry missing the game through suspension, but Martin Johnson will start, as his disciplinary meeting for picking up a third yellow card is set to be held next week. Otherwise the midlands team are at full strength.
Toulouse's big squad is being tested to the extreme. They have already lost Fabien Pelous with a knee injury and his replacement lock Romain Milo-Chhlusky is doubtful having suffered a head injury in the weekend's 21-10 victory over Clermont Auvergne. Another joining the ever growing injury list is flanker Jean Bouihou, however Toulouse have the luxury of selecting New Zealanders Finau Maka or Isitolo Maka, Irish representative Trevor Brennan or French internationals Christian Labit or Gregory Lamboley to fill their back row spots.
Home advantage could swing the balance Leicester's way, but I'm going for a Toulouse-Biarritz final, but it's so tight it could easily be the other way round.
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.