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.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Matt Kvesic was a try scorer and recipient of the Man of the Match award in Sunday's 35-10 European Rugby Challenge Cup win over Zebre. He praised the Italian side for their spirited opposition and admitted that next week's return game will be a tough one.