The Adventures of Sinbad: Kalamafoni, Euro clashes and LV=Cup
James Simpson-Daniel's weekly column: The Adventures of Sinbad.
Brought to you in association with rugby charity Wooden Spoon
OUR upcoming European quarter-final is a Heineken Cup clash without the name.
Everything about it is top-level European rugby, bar the title of the competition.
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The Amlin Challenge Cup is a far stronger and better tournament, in my opinion, for having three teams that drop down from the Heineken Cup for the quarter-finals.
Toulouse, Leinster and Biarritz are the three sides to step into the Amlin at the last eight – all teams that could realistically have fought to win the Heineken.
By the rules of this year's European competition, all three are ranked in Europe's top 11.
We are massively excited by the challenge of hosting Biarritz, and there are three big reasons why it will be such a vital game for the club.
This tournament offers a huge opportunity for Gloucester to cement a place in next season's Heineken Cup.
We are chasing silverware, and why not aim all-out for this?
We want to compete on an even footing with the best in the continent, and this is a great opportunity to take a step towards that.
Also, reaching knockout stages of any tournament is great experience, especially for the younger or newer members of Nigel Davies' squad.
Over the years at Gloucester we have gained just as many positive as negative experiences of knockout rugby.
But I seriously believe all of it has made us better players.
The more pressure matches you play, and the sooner, the better for development.
This squad boasts a startling amount of young talent – they need these kinds of experiences to improve.
Look at Leicester against Toulouse at the weekend. Granted Toulouse missed a hatful of penalty goals, but even despite that, you just always felt Leicester would win.
They know how to do the necessary, and that's experience.
Playing Biarritz means coming up against two former team-mates and good friends.
Iain Balshaw and Dimitri Yachvili will both be loving a chance to come back to Kingsholm.
Balsh might have been at Gloucester a little longer than Dimitri, but the French half-back certainly made a big impression at Kingsholm.
He really fitted in well, he got to grips with the feel of the place and loved his rugby here.
Both are good men but also dangerous rugby players, so when the game comes around we'll be excited to see them, but we'll be keen to shut them down too.
DAVIES WILL MIX IT UP TO SHOW FAITH IN US
THE LV=Cup gives us a chance to mix up team selection, and there’s no hiding place from that at Kingsholm.
Nigel Davies has said from day one that he trusts his whole squad, and it is in games like Saturday’s trip to Northampton where he can show that faith to its full extent.
There’s no point having a squad if you do not use it, and also there is no better way for players to prove themselves than by playing.
In the next two weeks we’ll have a good blend of guys who have been waiting patiently for chances, some coming back from injury and also a fair few who have been in good form lately.
That’s what this competition is all about.
And so at some point at Northampton and against Bath it will be great to see the likes of Andy Hazell, Pete Buxton and new recruit Lua Lokotui all make their presence felt.
Hazey has done brilliantly through his ban, and now that he’s ready to play again, it will be good to see him get back out there.
Bucko showed up well against Mont de Marsan, and his experience could be vital in the next two weeks.
Our new second row Lokotui is here now, and getting stuck into training.
It can’t be easy to join a team in the middle of a season, especially going halfway around the world.
But he’s settled in quickly, he’s just put his head down and got stuck in straight away.
He strikes me as the kind of man who will do his talking on the pitch, and we’re all excited by seeing him in action.
We’ll be back at Northampton in Premiership action in three weeks’ time.
The proximity of the two games will certainly add an extra dynamic to things, but the best way to handle that is to win on Saturday, and let whatever comes afterwards take care of itself!
KALAMAFONI SEES THINGS THAT OTHERS JUST DO NOT
SIONE Kalamafoni is an absolute machine.
In Saturday’s 36-16 Mont de Marsan victory he made a staggering 22 ball carries.
The statistic hardly tells the story, though. Every time he gets the ball, he hits the line at pace and almost swats defenders off him.
I can’t even begin to imagine what he sees out there when he gets the ball, but it’s a fair bet it’s a different view from the one the rest of us share.
There were some inaccuracies against Mont de Marsan, but in the end the boys got the job done well.
Six wins from six in a very tough Amlin pool is not to be dismissed and neither is the discipline of the Gloucester players on Saturday.
The boys kept their cool amid several incidents of provocation. I was commentating on the game, and even from the back of the stand I could pick out the odd questionable thing.
No one reacted, and Gloucester dealt with it all very well and I think that’s definitely worthy of praise.