The new rugby season is almost upon us. From a news point of view, though, it’s hardly been a quiet summer. The various tours, players moving on, changes in coaching staff as well as behind the scenes, and the long ban handed down to Richard Cockerill have all kept keen supporters well stocked with talking points. Now, however, we return to the bread and butter.
Whatever happens over the next nine months, Gloucester will look smart doing it. I like the new kit. Some may say it has something of a rugby league appearance but it is distinctive, and while a change strip is not a top priority it offers something very different. Pink, as we know, is not an uncommon colour in France, and many will be pleased by retention of the hoops. I just hope something can be done about the numbers. Watching on Friday night, they looked particularly small.
The one certainty, at least domestically, is that kick off times will be more streamlined. Former MD Ken Nottage loved to talk about giving supporters an “appointment to view”, in other words, regular matches at regular times, and the new deal with BTSport does just that.
The three televised Premiership fixtures will sit in the same slots in their schedule, with the Saturday afternoon match only moved back by 15 minutes from the traditional 3 o’clock start. A 7.45 game on a Friday and 2.00 fixture on a Sunday complete the picture, and while I’m sure the latter is to help editors for the highlights programme, it also avoids a late journey home.
I didn’t see every minute of every game over the summer but thought the boys who went away with England did their status no harm at all.
Jonny May will now have a feel for the international stage, and while in Formula 1 parlance Billy Vunipola is in Ben Morgan’s rear view mirrors for the number eight jersey, Morgan remains in pole position. I also liked the look of new recruit Matt Kvesic, who is hardly small for an open side and didn’t take a single backward step.
The most visible plus though was the Burns-Twelvetrees axis, which Gloucester fans will hope stays clear of injury in the months ahead.
Billy’s quality as an orchestrator is increasingly evident, and Freddie’s try in the second Test showed that ability to create something for yourself and finish it. Twitter users will know Burns’ own account profile jokes that he looks like Colonel Gadaffi – in which case Gloucester could be said to have the Colonel and the General.
While the new players bed in ahead of Gloucester’s opening Premiership match against Sale, one of the most encouraging appointments to me over the summer was that of Andy Hunt as a director on the non execitive board.
Here is a man who has, simultaneously, had three important roles with the London 2012 Olympics. He was CEO of the British Olympic Association, a director at LOCOG, and Chef de Mission – Team Manager to you and me – of Team GB.
I have met Andy and he gets from A to B very quickly. With the salary cap in place, his behind the scenes knowledge of how to get the best out of athletes through support structures will be invaluable, as will his business expertise. In terms of a “signing” his could be one of the most important made by the club.
So what of pre-season ? Defeats in Toulon and Munster, and wins over Plymouth Albion for a shadow XV, and over Scarlets for a XV close to the one expected to face Sale on Saturday. Sadly there have been injuries, notably to Shane Monahan. Hopefully May, who injured his arm against Touloon, will be back soon, and it would be a pity if Hudson missed the opening game, although there has to be a risk of that. I am reliably informed he is as close in style and ability to Alex Brown as Gloucester could find, so that’s a good reputation to bring with you.
It’s the time of year when predictions are often sought. I approached mine from this point of view – who, of the top four from last season, can Gloucester dislodge to get into the play off places.
The par of course, is Heineken Cup qualification – on the basis the competition continues in some format. Assuming injuries do not decimate the squad, that ought to be secured, but I’m not sure about finishing above Leicester, Harlequins or Saracens.
That leaves Northampton, who have been fourth for the last three seasons. They won’t want to give that record up lightly. which may leave Gloucester banging on the door of the top four but finding
no-one willing to let them in.
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