It is curious how one’s mindset changes in a short space of time. Yesterday morn, I steered my motor car elegantly past Kingsholm Stadium, noted the flags were flying proudly, the age-old indicator that a rugby football match would be played out that afternoon, and cogitated sombrely. I reflected upon my differing outlooks towards my favoured sporting team, the Gloucester outfit of Gloucester. As a youth I would have glanced up at the flapping ensigns and be filled with great excitement that my heroes would be running out upon the fabled turf before nightfall. Yesterday I deliberated how my peep up at the large flapping pennants brought me no such sense of electric anticipation. I knew I would be attending the afternoon’s fixture but was not exactly punching the air with delight.
Ironically, at a quarter to five I was punching the air with delight. My team, hosting a fancy-dan Biarritz side who were certainly keen to claim the Heineken Cup points, was a revelation, evicting lacklustre form and moribund tactics, playing with great ambition, élan and enterprise and mixing will-o’-the-wisp wit wi’ strong-arm sturdiness and surly shrewdness. I’m sure my eyes didn’t deceive me but at one point the city club contrived to run the ball from the shadow of their own posts, making forty-five fine yards and giving the popular side, browbeaten by too many pointless kicks to count this term, something to shout their collective throats raw with. It was wonderful to witness so much fluent and fabulous running rugby football.
Plenty clicked. The centre partnership of ‘Big’ Tim Molenaar and ‘Less Big’ Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu proved a handful, the former’s abrasive, no-nonsense straight running complementing the latter’s subtle sleight of hand and sublime sprinting. The young prince, Simpson-Daniel, relished his return to the wing and seemed back to his electrifying best, appreciating the extra space and a rare chance to paint expressionist canvases rather than whitewash breezeblocks; fresh freedom over failed functionality made the skilful sorcerer twice the player yesterday. The behemothic Tongan, Vainikolo enjoyed one of his more productive days, roaming the field with delicious intent and I savoured his keenness to leave the wing and come seeking the egg in midfield; the South Sea Islander is much more effective when he appears aggressively on a comrade’s shoulder. Elsewhere, behind the pack, Rory Lawson was as busy and hardworking as ever, Nicky Robinson mixed things up nicely and demonstrated his deceptive pace and eye for a space on several occasions while Olly Morgan produced a masterclass in full back play with too many fearless catches and counter-attacking careers upfield to count. It was marvellous.
An abrasive pack performance both in tight and loose provided the spadework for the back division to strut its stuff. Scott Lawson galloped round the park with gleeful abandon while his rival, in my opinion, for a player of the season gong, Dave Attwood, continued to further his claims for representative honours with another burly showing alongside the stylish Alexander Brown. The wing forward Qera is, thankfully, returning to some decent form; the fizzing Fijian was a right handful yesterday and is happily breaking more and more tackles and gain lines. The side needs him firing on all cylinders; at his best he remains a potent weapon in the Elver Eaters’ armoury.
I am aware of the old proverb featuring swallows and summers but shall ignore its lessons and simply reflect upon a hugely satisfying victory. Leaving beside the more pragmatic requirements of yesterday (potential qualification for future European quests), I’m more content to consider gained confidence, rugby football played with smiles on faces, adventurous and effective tactics and the whole team exhibiting spirit and grit and guile. I salute the Gloucester players warmly and with gratitude.
The photograph (taken with my iPhone – a new and potentially annoying habit) is entitled ‘A Triumphant Army Returns From Battle’.