“Playing at Kingsholm was something I’ll never forget – and I do miss it.”
So said former Gloucester second row Jim Hamilton BEFORE the latest pulsating encounter in front of The Shed which Hamilton was involved in. As the atmosphere crackled at one of one of club rugby’s most partisan venues for the visit of Hamilton’s current club Saracens, Gloucester had the last laugh with James Hook’s match winning kick.
The giant Scotland second row spent three seasons at Kingsholm, two under the man who signed him (Bryan Redpath) and one under Nigel Davies before a move to Montpellier. His one season there was a real eye opener.
“There had been a lot of speculation about me leaving Gloucester, and we’d always said as a family that
if the chance came to go to the south of France, by the beach, and with an amazing contract that would set us up for life, that’s what we’d do” Jim told me.
“We took an optimistic view about my career, but what I found hard was to detach myself from Gloucester. I was captain in the season when it was announced I was leaving. I couldn’t have given any more but fans want loyalty and the circumstances in which I left may have annoyed a few people. I still say though that I was very proud to captain a club like Gloucester with the prestige it has.”
Now a Saracen, he’s settled in well at Allianz Park, and “Big Jim” sites the stability of the club on and off the field as a major reason why they regularly challenge for honours.
“The foundations are rock solid” said Hamilton with a certainty you wouldn’t argue with. “At Gloucester there has been a fairly high turnover of players in the last four years and three different Directors of Rugby. It made the club unbalanced. Are Saracens stronger mentally ? I’d say it’s more about the consistency that comes from a strong base. We’re not at our very best at the moment but we have trust in each other and the systems we use.”
All of which made the decision to chase a bonus point try in the last minute at Kingsholm with just a narrow two point lead all the more surprising.
It means, at this stage, that Saracens cannot match the sharpness of Northampton and Bath. Hamilton isn’t surprised by Saints leading the table – in his opinion, another stable club who promote from within and recruit carefully externally. You certainly couldn’t say they empty the apple cart every summer for a swathe of new signings.
When asked about Bath, Jim merely said “dangerous.” The other leading clubs will no doubt feel the same.
Hamilton has recaptured his love of rugby after his season at Montpellier which – in his own words – proved that money isn’t everything. He struggled with the culture at the French club, but still believes it was the right decision to try playing there because it took away the “what if” element that would have been nagging away at him if he’d turned the chance down.
What Hamilton IS certain about is how he regards Gloucester.
“It’s a sleeping giant – what it needs is a settled squad and a good coaching set up” Hamilton said. “My first year was great because of the people that were in the squad. The second year was difficult towards the end when Brush (Bryan Redpath) left and then John Brain sadly passed away.”
“If you look now they’ve recruited Hibbard and Afoa up front – where they struggled last season – and those guys are two of the top 10 front rowers in the world. It’s also great to see Tom Savage back playing so well.
Gloucester are worthy of a top four place.”
After Friday and with nine games to go, Gloucester supporters might begin to dream of that too.
Photograph :Copyright http://www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk