David Humphreys’ Gloucester side kicked off their European campaign with an impressive 47-27 win over French side Bayonne in Round one of the Challenge Cup.
After a poor start to their Aviva Premiership season, have the Cherry and Whites finally found their feet? Here are four things we learned from Gloucester’s visit to the South of France.
Coming back from a nine month injury was never going to be easy, but Jonny May seemed to take it in his stride. The winger caused confusion for the Bayonne defence all afternoon.
The England winger provides a sense of unpredictability that the Gloucester backline have been sorely missing over the past few months, and he was completely deserving of his comeback try.
With Jonny already back in the England camp as part of Eddie Jones’ EPS squad, the year ahead looks exciting for him after a prolonged absence on the sidelines.
2. More Atkinson Please
Along with May, the other standout performer was Mark Atkinson. For a while now, Atkinson has been used to plug the gaps created by injury. He’s filled in at several positions already this season, but on Saturday I think we really saw where his strengths really lie.
At inside centre, Atkinson truly shines. His ability to pick a line is second to none (as demonstrated with his two tries) but more than that, he seems to always be able to pick out space with ball in hand.
His chemistry with centre partner Matt Scott is evident, which considering the amount of midfield combinations Gloucester have trailed over the past few years, is a real relief.
3. The Centre of Attention
Speaking of Matt Scott, the Scottish international continues to prove his worth since his move from Edinburgh over the summer. Not only did Matt score his fifth try of the season on Saturday, but he also brings something special to the Gloucester back line.
With Scott at 13, complimented by Atkinson at 12, the Cherry and Whites showed cohesion that has been distinctly lacking recently.
The Scotsman is able to act as the link between half backs and wingers with apparent ease, allowing the play to be spread quickly, let’s hope this form continues.
4. The chink in the armour
Despite the many positives we saw on Saturday, it was by no means a perfect performance. Even with some of the exceptional back performances, it did not make some of Gloucester’s weakness up front.
Several of Bayonne’s tries came from close range driving mauls, which shows a distinct defensive frailty in the Gloucester pack.
This, coupled with the inability to defend the driving maul against Exeter at Sandy Park the previous weekend, shows a consistent weakness in the Cherry and White defence. If this Achilles heel is not fixed, it could continue to pain the team throughout the season.
It’s back to Kingsholm this weekend for the Gloucester boys as they host Benetton Treviso.
Realistically, Humphreys and his coaching staff will be expecting another comfortable five point win for Gloucester, with the more daunting double header against La Rochelle coming up in December.
The Gloucester Director of Rugby will also be hoping these ties give his side the momentum they need to kickstart their lacklustre domestic campaign, with games against Northampton, Saracens and Wasps all coming up in the next few weeks.