I was as surprised as many supporters by the Sunday Times article over Easter concerning a strategic review of Gloucester Rugby, carried out by external consultants, with a view to the club POSSIBLY passing to new owners. Was it April 1st ? No. True, the Walkinshaws do not own 100% of the club, but over the last 18 years their backing has been loyal and the ties feel emotionally strong.
I can only say that Steven Vaughan has proved himself to be a shrewd CEO and if he thinks there is money out there – you could almost call it a Dragons Den situation – then perhaps Ryan Walkinshaw might consider releasing a slice of his families’ stake in the club for the right investment. Either way it looks a slow burner of a situation given the large sums of money involved.
So let’s spin back to April 1997, when Tom Walkinshaw bought Gloucester Rugby. How many semi finals have the team been in since then ? The answer is 12, with tonight being the 13th, and if that’s more than you can mentally recall let me help you through a dozen games that have been converted into six pieces of silverware.
It would be fair to say that three of those successes in finals do NOT mean a great deal given the current structure. Two were in the short lived Cheltenham and Gloucester Cup, where in 1998 and 1999 Gloucester won finals at Franklins Gardens against Bedford, and the Premiership play off win over Bristol in 2002 was at a time when winning the league meant a separate trophy.
That idea was soon ditched too, and while Gloucester fans hated the ruling with a real passion for several seasons afterwards, I think there is an acceptance now that the play offs, as a concept, isn’t going to change any time soon.
The other three final victories included one in this competition at the Stoop, the same venue being used for this year’s final, although a repeat fixture against London Irish is no longer possible.
James Forrester’s successful chase of his own kick gave Dean Ryan something to show for his first full season in charge in 2006, and Nigel Melville also marked his first full term with a trophy in 2003, when James Forrester also scored in the Powergen Cup triumph over Northampton.
In terms of profile, that to me was the most significant, and certainly more so than the LV Cup win in 2011 when, again at Franklins Gardens, Gloucester under Bryan Redpath comfortably accounted for Newcastle.
If that was Redpath’s only chance of glory, Dean Ryan’s departure in 2009 came after three opportunities slipped through Gloucester’s fingers. They had reached the Premiership final in 2007 only to be soundly beaten by Leicester, and Tigers got to Twickenham final 12 months later as well with a narrow win in the semi final here. When Ryan’s team were hammered by Cardiff in the EDF (now LV) Final, his tenure didn’t last long.
The same was true for the man Ryan replaced. Former Wasps scrum half Melville had seen Gloucester lose a Parker Pen (Challenge Cup) semi final to Sale only weeks after his arrival in 2002, but three years later – and remember Gloucester had lost the 2003 play off final without playing a semi final, such were the rules 12 years ago – Melville left after Saracens secured a Heineken Cup spot beating Gloucester in the Zurich Wildcard final.
One might argue Gloucester’s route into the Champions Cup next autumn is no less of a “wildcard” option – all of which leaves the one semi final that these days be the highest profile of them all. It remains the one occasion that Gloucester have reached the last four in the top flight European competition, and even 14 years on, Leon Lloyd’s try for Leicester in the Heine ken Cup clash at Watford in 2001 remains a topic of controversy whenever the game is discussed.
It’s worth saying then that of those dozen semi finals, Gloucester have won nine and lost only three, but on the evidence of last weekend and previous tussles with the Chiefs, they’ll need to play well to enhance that record any further. Exeter are well drilled, solid at set pieces, tireless in terms of their work ethic and with enough flair to add some sparkle – you could say there is no obvious weakness.
This looks the stronger of the two ties, and while Chiefs may still have the Premiership play offs to think about, it’s fair to say the Challenge Cup, and what may follow, is everything to Gloucester in terms of the season. Win and they will fancy their chances against Edinburgh. Achieving that however, will take some doing.
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