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.
Fly-half Billy Burns was named Man of the Match after the 35-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup victory over Stade Rochelais on Thursday evening, and was full of praise for all his team mates for the win after a short turnaround.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.