Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Italian Job

Gloucester 61 – Calvisano 0

These are optimistic times at Kingsholm. Even before yesterday’s pre-season friendly I was quietly pleased with the sensible recruitment in key areas and the subtle mix of experience and raw young talent that the club was developing and entrusting with our hopes. Yesterday’s romp against an admittedly average Italian outfit confirmed my positive feelings. Gloucester bullied in the right areas, were abrasive as heck when they needed to be but, when the canvas required, painted beautiful brushstrokes.

The forward pack fought doggedly for the ball. The Balding fellow, captaining the city with assurance and maturity, led by example and contested the breakdown fiercely. The likes of Eustace and Wood were not far behind in terms of application and hunger for work. New dad Vickery concentrated mainly on the rigours of the set-piece but his day with ball in hand shall come soon. James Merriman did a few decent things and showed fine pace at times but was not as involved as I would have wanted. His time will come; experience counts for a good deal and the nipper needs more game time at this level.

Behind the pack lurked nuggets. James Simpson-Daniel was barely stoppable. His speed, both of thought and deed, had the hapless Italians chasing shadows all afternoon. He chose some peerless angles and scored a most remarkable first half try carrying the ball across the pitch and defeating defender after defender before touching down under the sticks. A second period ankle injury must cause concern; we need his class in weeks to come. The second nugget was burly, brave Jack Adams who dominated the midfield with his no-nonsense running. He forced his way through tackle after tackle, scored a couple of smashing tries and seriously looked the part. Lads of his age should be wearing braces not scoring them but this punter is not complaining. I thought young scrum half Hadyn Thomas had a satisfactory home debut too. His first half radar was slightly out and McRae had to stretch to receive a couple of efforts but, after the break, he appeared sharper, more composed and ready to take on the oppo back row with some sniping breaks and pacy runs.

Late on, a trio of substitutions proffered real heart to the supporters. Patrice Collazo relished his return to Stade Kingsholm and completely dominated the tight and was a handful and a bit of a nuisance in looser exchanges. Olivier Azam took Collazo’s lead and used his aggression and passion with no little effect. Finally, a returning hero, Ludovoc Mercier captured the crowd’s imagination with a sublime cameo and fluent running, fine vision and beautiful passing. Essentially the man kicked superbly. His first kick from hand sailed from 22 to 22, a driver’s whack when we have been used to one or two irons for the last year or two. All of his goal kicks bisected the uprights and he scored a well-taken try with his first touch. It was marvellous. I think we’ll do extremely well this season with Ludo at the helm.

On returning home it was a delight to watch our youngish team win the Middlesex Sevens – and Gloucester fans of more than fifteen or twenty years service will appreciate how bizarre that concept is. Simon Amor led the side with pure class but it was our other teenage centre, Anthony Allen, who really caught the eye with classy, powerful running and a wide range of exquisite skills. It was a thrilling final against Wasps and I felt huge pride in the city lads for a wonderful achievement.

All looks mighty fine then as the new season approaches. We have so many talented youngsters in Allen, Adams, Morgan, Narroway, Wood, Merriman and the acutely talented Lamb. The forward pack has been bolstered by new signings and players returning from injury - the arrival and potential impact of the Springbok Davids will be intriguing – and we have a player who can kick us deep into opposition territory and score point after point from almost anywhere.

I can’t wait for proceedings to commence.