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.
Jonny May's superb late score capped a thrilling 40-32 European play-off win over Connacht on Sunday. The winger spoke afterwards of his team's character and spirit as he looked ahead to one more week of rugby.
Speaking to GRTV this afternoon, Director of Rugby David Humphreys hailed the 'never say die' attitude of the team, after despite not being at their best, fighting back to take a 40-32 win after extra time over Connacht.
Jonny May continues on the wing on Sunday as Connacht come to town, and the England wing explains to the local media this week that he is delighted with his form and is looking forward to taking on Pat Lam's men.
Speaking to the local media this week, front rower John Afoa is familiar with the challenge of Connacht from his time in Belfast, and the World Cup winner is fully aware of the challenge they pose ahead of Sunday's meeting in the Champions Cup play off
Speaking ahead of Gloucester's European Rugby Champions play-off against Connacht on Sunday (Kingsholm, 3:30pm), Director of Rugby David Humphreys admitted that he's glad to have more players available than in recent weeks ahead of a tough fixture.
Nick Wood captained the Cherry and Whites on Saturday afternoon, and the experienced front rower expressed his pride in the young squad in defeat to Bath on the final day of the Aviva Premiership season.
Lewis Ludlow scored Gloucester's opening try in the 30-50 defeat at Bath on Saturday, part of an impressive performance by the young back row forward. Speaking after the game, he paid tribute to the young Gloucester side who went toe to toe with the Aviva Premiership semi-finalists.
Speaking to the local media after the game, Director of Rugby David Humphreys gave an honest assessment of the game, and expressed his pride in the way his young charges had performed against the title-chasing hosts.
Speaking to the local media this week, Gloucester Rugby scrum half Callum Braley is excited by the challenge of the West Country Derby, and the ex-Bristol man reveals the squad will be giving their all.
Tongan international forward Sione Kalamafoni returns after injury to take up his usual place in the back row as Gloucester look to finish their season on a high against Bordeaux-Begles at Sixways on Sunday.
Gloucester Rugby is delighted to confirm that 18 year old Mat Protheroe, a product of Hartpury College and one of the brightest young talents in the English game, has signed a senior contract at Kingsholm.
At the recent London Irish game, personnel from the Imjin Barracks in Innsworth, including Gurkhas, were present, holding a collection to raise funds for ShelterBox to aid relief from the recent Nepal Earthquake Appeal.