The Six Nations is over, and in athletics terms we are about to start the final lap of the season.
For some, the chance of silverware this season is still alive. For others, it’s about finishing the campaign as strongly as possible and hoping for better next time round.
Arguably, Gloucester has a foot in both camps. The Amlin Challenge Cup quarter final is still ahead, but I’ll return to that later. Premiership wise,
the table does not make happy reading with six games remaining. The gap to Sale in sixth place is now 16 points and although the Sharks have a difficult run in, it would be long odds on Gloucester closing it.
My next door neighbour is a season ticket holder who, like thousands of others, was recently sent details of next season’s prices. For the second summer in three, the club will draw deeply on the fans loyalty and eternal optimism.
What we do know is re-enforcements are coming, and on the evidence of what I have seen of the Championship in recent weeks, so are Bristol.
They will be welcomed back at the top table, and would have the resources of making a genuine fist of it. Stephen Lansdown has backed Andy Robinson to assemble a big squad but – and this is only my view -they would still need to recruit half a dozen senior players if they seal promotion.
The issue then is the timing, as the play off final is in June, when everyone else has had a head start in the recruitment process. No doubt conversations are taking place already.
It must be said, though, that there is a big gap between the heavier weights in the Championship and the rest.
I was at Penzance earlier this month for a game between Cornish Pirates and Jersey. The conditions at the Mennaye were a mudbath – think that famous Fran Cotton photograph – and while you could not question the honest endeavour of both teams, the sharpness just wasn’t there.
As the Jersey chairman said, without the considerable support both financially and at the gate that the Premiership teams get, Championship teams would in many cases be close to folding if one individual walks away. That level of backing is the only means by which they can survive full time.
Drop to the third tier, and Gloucestershire could have two sides next season. Cinderford are currently in the relegation zone but with games in hand should be able to get themselves to safety. This is the second season the Foresters have spent the bulk of the season near the bottom, and from September they may have Hartpury to contend with as well.
After a couple of near misses, they currently top Division 2 South with a handy cushion between themselves and the chasers. They still have to play both Canterbury and Ampthill, but unless they lose both and their form collapses, they should be able to clinch the title. Going up another level will also give Gloucester good options if they want to do dual registration deals for younger players to
give them regular rugby.
In the time that the LV Cup has been won by Exeter – and there will be many outside Devon who will be pleased about that, given the way the Chiefs have adapted to the top flight – Gloucester have brought Trevor Woodman back to the club as scrum coach.
“Dougie” fulfilled the same role at Wasps for four years, so the up coming Amlin Challenge cup quarter final will be a game of some significance for him personally. It also offers the chance for both teams to salvage something from a season where league form has been indifferent. It will be almost ten years to the day since Wasps won a Heineken Cup quarter final against Gloucester 34-3 at the same venue. What better time to click into gear with a home semi final on offer to the winners.
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