Pete Butler column: Shambolic Sharks, Scotland and Burns
SATURDAY saw a regulation victory for Gloucester over a Sale side who were never likely to be at the races at Kingsholm.
With Freddie Burns at the rudder the Cherry and Whites were always comfortable victors.
And when you compare this win with the last match between the two sides it shows how much progress has been made under Nigel Davies.
It also shows have far Sale have fallen.
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The shambles being overseen by Steve Diamond is desperately in need of some kind of anchor, a solid point from where to build.
But at the moment all the Sharks are is anchored to the bottom of the Premiership.
In contrast Gloucester, seemingly in free-fall at the end of last season, put themselves third in the table with this latest victory born out of forward dominance and comfortable, rhythmic kicking at goal.
The only thing missing was the try bonus point, but it was never an afternoon for anything but keeping it tight and winning ugly.
With other teams in the top four more impacted by losing players to international duty, this is a crucial time for Gloucester to steal a march on their rivals.
With Saracens, Leicester and Harlequins all losing, the Cherry and Whites have the chance to establish themselves in the top four which is where they want to be come the end of the season.
This weekend is the small matter of a trip to Vicarage Road to face Saracens.
Depending on which Gloucester players suit Stuart Lancaster's whim this week, it could be another great opportunity to strike a blow against a rival.
Saracens are quite rightly well-represented in the England squad given their success of recent seasons.
This a chance for Gloucester to test themselves against the direct, physical brand of rugby the men from Watford play.
It will also be a thorough examination of the away form that has been so impressive so far this season.
The suggestion has been that Gloucester have only been able to win away against the weaker teams, and defeat at Harlequins would appear to prove that.
But a win over Saracens would really start to turn a few heads and make people realise that Gloucester mean business.
BURNS IS THE FUTURE BUT LANCASTER MUST BIDE TIME
I AM a bit uncomfortable with the way the national press is starting to build up Freddie Burns as Toby Flood struggles in an England shirt.
The problem is, they will be the first to knock him down if it doesn’t go well when he does make the step up.
I felt Flood was particularly poor against South Africa, but he has never been an international-level performer, despite having so many caps now.
He missed crucial kicks and kicked other ball away and gave a perfect example of why he doesn’t cut the mustard.
Saying that, he has been the best of the post-Wilkinson era but I think it’s now time to look elsewhere.
For me the future is a team featuring both Burns and Owen Farrell. But to throw Burns in against New Zealand would be the wrong move.
It’s time to take stock and then rethink ahead of the Six Nations. Whether Stuart Lancaster does that or not is a different story.
SCOTLAND'S PROBLEMS GO DEEPER THAN COACH
THERE was nothing Andy Robinson could do but quit after Scotland lost to Tonga.
Robinson's regime has been one of several excellent performances for Scotland, but they've never been able to string it together into measurable progress.
The problem is, whichever coach is at the helm is always going to have a limited talent pool available to them.
You can only do so much with the players at your disposal.
When it comes down to it, there are more fundamental problems with Scottish rugby that a good coach can solve.
From somewhere, they need to start producing the type of match-winning players who can compete at the very top level.
Until then, calamitous defeats like the one against Tonga on Saturday will always be around the corner.
So much effort has to go into to get a decent performance, and that effort level is very difficult to sustain.