Last weekend’s results have split the Premiership table even more clearly into three. It would be a surprise now if any of the top five teams did not qualify for next season’s Champions Cup, which leaves five more teams – with Sale Sharks the outsiders – chasing that coveted sixth spot. At the bottom, surely only one of Worcester or Bristol will survive, and they play each other at Sixways on March 5th.
It’s fair to say Bristol’s adaptation to being back in the top flight hasn’t gone too well. Ten straight defeats left them well adrift at the foot of the table, so to still be in contention at this stage says something for their revival under Mark Tainton. I sought out one of Gloucester’s Championship recruits, flanker Jacob Rowan, to see if the gap really is the chasm it appears. His first thought was not about the quality of their play either last season or this, but the system by which Bristol were promoted.
“You don’t know if you are going to go up until the end of May, which in terms of recruitment is a Director of Rugby’s nightmare” Rowan said. “You have to try and sign players who are available at that time and before you know it you are into pre season. Bristol have found it hard but they have made some signings since then and you don’t know how far their improvement will take them.”
Rowan’s own graduation from the Championship has now progressed to a point where he’s become first choice at open side flanker for Gloucester and Matt Kvesic is leaving at the end of his contract in the summer to join Exeter. Now 27. Rowan has the security of a Chemistry degree behind him, and still carries the statistic of never being yellow carded in Gloucester colours.
“As a seven, you try and play on the edge and push the boundaries but discipline is a big part of the game” Rowan went on. “Look at what happened at Exeter earlier in the season. In the last few minutes we conceded two penalties which gave them field position and the opportunity to score a try. Over the past two seasons I have worked a lot on my breakdown skills, especially defensively, and I knew I had to increase my body mass too. I was a bit light when I came here and I was a bit taken aback by how strong the guys were in the gym.”
Rowan was brought through at Yorkshire Carnegie by former England coach Stuart Lancaster, who also had Luther Burrell and Calum Clark in the same youth system. He went on to play more than 100 first team games for the club before his move to Gloucester and sees it as a good grounding on a personal level for his career.
“In terms of physicality, the divisions are not too far apart because there are some big and expressive players in the Championship. The big steps are the tempo and the skill level, and being able to execute those skills at high pace for 80 minutes. The more you get used to it, the more you can do it, and that applies in training too. We’re all trying to put questions into the heads of the coaches on a weekly basis when they come to select the team.”
With eleven matches completed this season and an involvement in 14 of Gloucester’s 15 Premiership games, Gloucester cannot find a way to leave Rowan out. His chemistry for the team is proving ideal.
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