'Mike still had that look in his eye, the one that made us follow him into battle'
GLOUCESTER'S 1972 cup triumph against the odds ensures Mike Nicholls will never be forgotten at Kingsholm, believes former team-mate Robin Cowling.
Cowling packed down in the front-row along with captain Nicholls and England man Mike Burton in Gloucester's victorious 1972 cup side.
The Cherry and Whites were forced to play each game away from home, seeing off both London Welsh and Coventry – two of the eras great sides – before battling past Moseley in the Twickenham final.
Few rated Gloucester's victory chances, not least those that viewed the Kingsholm men as unfashionable.
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But Cowling said Nicholls turned any disinterest from the wider rugby community in Gloucester's favour.
The Exeter Chiefs team manager recalls that pivotal season fondly – and Nicholls' impact with pride.
Cowling explained: "He was a huge part of Gloucester rugby club: he lived for the club and for rugby.
"Mike is an integral part of Gloucester's history, and played a massive role in the development of the club.
"That cup win was his finest hour as a Gloucester player I think – it was certainly his forte as a leader.
"The rugby establishment didn't really want us to win that match, but Mike used that as fuel for us, and it worked.
"He was an inspirational leader, and off the pitch he was quite simply a really nice man.
"He was a strong family man, and a good friend.
"He devoted his whole life to rugby.
"His wife Sheila bought into that, and so did his children.
"It's a huge loss to Gloucester, both the club and the city.
"But he's someone who will always be remembered – he's installed in the club's history and in the hearts and minds of those who knew him, respected him and played alongside him."
When the 1972 team reunited for the 40th anniversary dinner in April, Nicholls' team-mates were delighted their captain was able to attend.
Despite suffering dementia, Cowling said Nicholls always retained more than a glint of his old edge.
Cowling added: "It's great Mike was able to be there, important really.
"I hope he enjoyed it, I felt I could see a flash of recognition there, and he seemed in good spirits that night.
"Even though he was unwell, he still had that look in his eye – it's the look that would have made us follow him into battle, and he never lost it."