Gloucester defence coach Dave Ellis rounds up his last week including the departure of Nigel Melville and his journey to New Zealand to team up with the All Blacks team.
It's been quite an eventful week, one way or another! I left Heathrow on Monday last week on my journey to New Zealand to work with Graham Henry and the All Blacks coaching team in preparation for the Lions tests. Little did I know that the dramatic events at Kingsholm were about to unfold.
I arrived in Auckland on Wednesday morning and was greeted at the airport by Graham Henry closely followed by a posse of journalists. We drove to Graham's house where I met his charming family and despite the lack of sleep and jet lag, the excitement of arriving in this rugby mad country kept me going until late that evening.
My sleep was eventually broken by a call from Nigel Melville, who delivered the bad news that he was leaving the club. Nigel is a consummate professional and I have the utmost respect for him as a coach and a person, and am sure he will not be unemployed for very long.
Thursday morning we travelled down to Christchurch to meet up with the All Blacks coaching team of Steve Hanson, Wayne Smith and Mike Cron. We checked in to the Heritage Hotel our base for the next few days. The hotel has an adjoining complex of apartments consisting of two bedrooms and bathroom on a mezzanine floor overlooking a self contained kitchen and lounge area. The All Blacks use this type of accommodation regularly, providing the players and management with more privacy and autonomy than the usual hotel rooms.
The centre also has state-of-the-art video editing facilities and we cocooned ourselves in this room, only breaking for lunch and dinner. The sessions were enthralling, we analysed footage in minute detail and I was prompted to interpret the frailties and strengths of the various team's defensive structures we viewed. Rarely do you get the opportunity to work in these conditions, without distraction, totally focussed on specific areas of the game.
Everyone seemed to thrive in the intensity of the discussions and the enthusiasm soon spilled over during dinner as we arranged the salt, pepper and various condiment jars in position to signify defensive lines. I became totally engrossed in the discussions and it soon became obvious why Graham Henry has assembled such an expert coaching panel.
Each of the team has their own individual qualities. Wayne Smith, the former Northampton coach, provides a sharp analytical edge to his backline views. Steve Hanson (ex-Wales) is an authority on forward play and has exceptional technical knowledge, and Mike Cron specialises in the art of scrumaging. More importantly they seem to gel exceptionally well as a coaching unit under the guidance of Graham Henry.
On Friday, we were guests at the Canterbury Crusaders v Wellington Hurricanes Super 12s semi final. The competition has its critics in Europe, but the exceptional speed and skill levels of the players involved is quite breathtaking. The Lions tests will be a clash of Northern v Southern hemisphere styles, the fast open game against the pragmatic approach and it will make the series an enthralling spectacle.
Before my trip, I understandably had an element of trepidation, working with people I knew personally very little about, but the whole team have been exceptionally warm and friendly towards me. I've spent most of my time with Graham and he is a unique individual. He reminds me very much of the legendary Australian rugby league coach Jack Gibson, who I had the pleasure to meet during the 2003 World Cup, both have genuine presence, very calm and considered and enormously inspirational.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
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.
On a tough evening at Kingsholm, Gloucester could escape neither a suffocating Bath defence, nor the whistle of referee Greg Garner as six penalties and a penalty try paved the way to a 39-16 win for the visitors.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).