In his weekly column Gloucester defence coach Dave Ellis looks back at last weekend's Wild Card semi-final, ahead to this Saturday's clash with Saracens, and talks about his role with All Blacks this summer.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
The announcement of my appointment to the All Blacks coaching team in an advisory capacity for the Lions tests has made national news this week, and the attention from the media has been somewhat interesting. The angle the press seems to have followed suggests I am some sort of spy, disclosing top-secret information to the evil dark side.
Well, I must plead guilty as charged! Problem is, I've been doing this since my involvement with the French national team in 2000. It's a role I'm used to and enjoy. Pitting my skills against the world's best is a tremendous challenge and I am sure the experience will be fascinating and broaden my knowledge as a rugby coach. Maybe one of these days I might see light? Who knows?
I travel to New Zealand on Monday next week to meet the All Blacks coaching team of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Wayne Smith and the less well-known kicking coach Mike Byrne. I met Mike during the Six Nations Championship in 2002 when he was employed as a specialist kicking coach for the Scottish RFU.
Mike's background is in Aussie Rules, a native of Melbourne who starred for Hawthorn Hawks. He played in the same Premiership winning team as the legendary Dermot Brereton, one of the most successful Aussie Rules footballers in history,
With the excitement of the Lions tour approaching it was ironic that Gloucester faced Newcastle and that man Jonny Wilkinson last week. As usual, the focus was on the England World Cup hero, and although he was far from his best, he still managed to make one scintillating break early on, a couple of big tackles and produce an exceptionally accurate place kicking display.
Despite already having three recognised fly-halves on the plane in Ronan O'Gara, Stephen Jones and Charlie Hodgson, I was not surprised to see his name added to Clive Woodward's Lions party. The tourists will need all their truly world-class players to perform and Jonny is well worth the risk. If he progresses with his form and fitness, I expect him to leapfrog the others to take a Test place.
His opposite number last Sunday was our very-own Duncan McRae, who has had a mixed season mainly due to injury, but I felt his display eclipsed that of the Newcastle fly half.
Despite reluctantly taking over the kicking duties, with the exception of one penalty miss from in front, Duncan struck the ball exceptionally well. His leadership in a make shift back-line, with James Forrester and Brad Davies both playing out of position, was exemplary and he combined creativity with ball in hand, and generated good field position through intelligent kicks
Another outstanding performance came from James Forrester in the unusual position of centre. Having been drafted to stand in for the injured Terry Fanolua, he showed power and speed to crash over for his first score and constantly looked threatening with his ability to pop pass out of the tackle. There is little doubt James has outstanding skills and pace, running wide seems to suit his style of game and I hope we are able to exploit this talent further in his more familiar position next season.
To defeat Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday and gain entry to next year's Heineken Cup would round off the season on high, on what otherwise has been a generally disappointing season at Kingsholm.
Unfortunately our walking wounded list continues with the news that Jake Boer has a broken bone in his hand, putting him out of the Zurich Wild Card final.
It is however, fitting that Andy Gomarsall, one of our best players in recent seasons will finish off his Gloucester career at the home of English rugby, before his move north to Worcester.
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.