Season Review: Gloucester Rugby
2018/19 may have culminated in semi-final disappointment against Saracens at Allianz Park, but that should not mask a season of immense promise for Gloucester Rugby.
Improving on their seventh-place finish last time around, Johan Ackermann’s Cherry & Whites powered to third position in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby table, securing a number of notable wins against champions Saracens and Exeter Chiefs in the process.
With the outstanding Danny Cipriani pulling the strings, a beefy pack generating plenty of quick ball, and a host of talented youngsters in the backs, it’s fair to say the feelgood factor well and truly returned to Kingsholm over the course of the last 12 months.
In search of inspiration after a middling 2017/18, the seed for Gloucester’s stark upturn in fortunes was sown during a stellar summer in which both Cipriani and towering South African lock Franco Mostert arrived in the West Country.
It took a while for the Cherry & Whites to fully click, Ackermann’s side losing three of their first five encounters, but when they eventually did, there was no looking back.
Six victories from seven between February and April, including home wins against Saracens and Exeter and an away triumph at Northampton Saints, saw Gloucester comfortably seal third and head into the semi-finals with real momentum.
In the end, it wasn’t to be; European and domestic champions Sarries proving too much on home soil in the last four, yet with the wind in their sails, Ackermann and co will surely head into 2019/20 with renewed vigour – and as Gallagher Premiership Rugby contenders once more.
Where to start?
Ollie Thorley’s Try of the Season at home to Leicester Tigers takes some beating; the youngster scorching down the left wing before dancing through the middle to score from range.
But Cipriani’s routine brilliance is also more than worthy of a mention.
Among numerous magic moments, the flighted effort to send Charlie Sharples clear against Northampton Saints on the opening day, and the instinctive first-time pass in the build-up to Matt Banahan’s late effort at Bath Rugby both instantly spring to mind.
Meanwhile, on a collective level, back-to-back home wins against Saracens and Exeter showcased a side back in their pomp and ready to take on all comers.
An astute pick-up from Wasps, fly-half Cipriani added a huge sprinkle of stardust for Ackermann’s men, laying the foundations in attack in a series of inspired displays.
Scintillating both with the boot and with ball in hand, the England international swept all before him at the end of season awards, winning Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Season and claiming a place in the best 15 of 2018/19.
With Cipriani orchestrating proceedings, wingers Charlie Sharples and Thorley were both afforded the platform to excel; the former crossing 10 times over the course of the campaign while the latter enjoyed a breakthrough season.
Elsewhere, locks Mostert and Ed Slater forged a formidable partnership, with centre Mark Atkinson also making the team of the season.
Star performances aplenty for a side that thrived both individually and collectively.
THE BIG ONE
A season filled with exceptional performers from day one ⭐️
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) May 22, 2019
Nominated for Land Rover Discovery of the Season and part of Eddie Jones’ wider England squad for the Six Nations clash against Italy, homegrown prospect Thorley experienced something of a coming of age at the top level of the professional game.
Capable of the spectacular – as his try against Tigers proved – and a strong runner, the 22-year-old remains an outside shot for a World Cup berth despite fierce competition in the Red Rose ranks.
I know we say it every week…But…HOW GOOD is @thorlo 🤩
Head down, gears up, FLY 💨@gloucesterrugby are purring and this man is on fire 🔥
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 24, 2019
Thorley was not the only young back to make his mark at Kingsholm either, with the versatile Tom Seabrook also shining towards the end of the campaign.
With flanker Lewis Ludlow also in reserve, the future looks bright for the Cherry & Whites.
In for 2019/20
Arriving from Wasps as part of a swap deal that sees Ben Vellacott go the other way, fleet-footed scrum-half Joe Simpson will provide competition for captain Willi Heinz next season as part of an exciting back division.
Simpson will be joined at Kingsholm by prop Jamal Ford-Robinson, who arrives from Northampton Saints via a stint on loan at Championship club Coventry, while Chris Harris joins from Newcastle Falcons.
Another reason for optimism is Ackermann’s contract extension that will keep him in charge at Kingsholm for the foreseeable future.
Out for 2019/20
Vellacott is far from the only departure this summer as Gloucester experience something of an overhaul ahead of the new campaign.
Club stalwart Tom Savage heads to Japan, with Paddy McAllister set to join Connacht and Gareth Evans off to the Ospreys.