Peter Butler column: Irish, Burns' boots and mixing it up
Peter Butler column:
WINNING away in the Premiership is all about keeping the game tight, some sound tactical kicking and excellent defence, but nobody told Gloucester.
I was delighted to be proven wrong by a fine performance by the Cherry and Whites, who showed against London Irish they possess the cutting edge to do some real damage if they can build form and confidence.
When you consider that Gloucester shipped 50 points at the Madejski the last time they played there, to turn the tables so spectacularly certainly bodes well for the new era.
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Here’s hoping the Northampton game was merely a first half of getting the cobwebs out of the system, and that now we can see Gloucester challenging the best teams home and away this season.
It’s not a time to get too excited. The Irish victory makes it a par start for the Cherry and Whites after the disappointment of a home defeat the week before.
You can also argue Irish were a team low on confidence and in the midst of a rebuilding phase themselves.
In short, it’s crucial Gloucester don’t get carried away and keep their heads screwed on for what will be a tough trip to Worcester this weekend.
Gloucester have never had it easy at Sixways, despite the two clubs often battling at opposite ends of the Premiership table.
The Warriors have always managed to drag it into a messy forwards battle on their home patch – and quite often at Kingsholm – so now Gloucester have to start realising the importance of imposing their game on others.
All of that comes with confidence and momentum, which the Cherry and Whites have created as a result of their win at Irish.
But all that can come crashing down with the wrong result at Sixways.
But victory just up the M5 and two away wins on the trot will leave Nigel Davies and his charges licking their lips at the prospect of Wasps coming to Kingsholm the week after.
The best way to get over a disappointing opening day defeat is to win away at a ground for the first time in six years. Now it’s time to keep it going.
BURNS' BOOT MAY BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING AND LOSING AT SIXWAYS
IT’S fantastic to see Freddie Burns striking the ball with such aplomb at the start of this season.
The Gloucester fly-half has added some real rhythm off the tee to his undoubted attacking talent and I hope he has discovered a technique that can make him an 80 per cent kicker this season.
Gloucester have suffered with the lack of a nailed-on kicker for too long.
They can often be the anchor for some crucial wins – Burns’ three penalties were the difference between the sides on Saturday at the Madejski.
Burns’ attacking talent has never been questioned.
He has the ability to spot a gap and the footwork to create space from everywhere on the field.
Balancing that with a good kicking game – both out of the hands and off the tee – is his challenge, and if he can do that he becomes a genuine challenger for the England number ten shirt.
What he needs to do now is keep it up. It could be a conversion or a penalty at a crucial moment that makes the difference against Worcester, given how tight those games have been in recent seasons.
MIX IT UP TO KEEP PLAYERS FRESH AND FIT
ANOTHER positive I took from Saturday’s game was Nigel Davies’ willingness to mix it up a bit with his selection.
I heard Jim Hamilton lamenting being asked to play too much rugby last season and, put simply, that was because Gloucester’s options were quite limited.
But with Hamilton, Alex Brown, Will James and young Tom Savage coming through, plus others, Gloucester can pick different combinations in the engine room which will benefit them as the season goes on.
The same can be said for the back-row, where Andy Hazell and Akapusi Qera did a half each against London Irish, and in the front row where there are quality options across all three positions.
Gloucester don’t have the depth of a Saracens or a Leicester, which is where I think they might struggle later in the season.
But it’s important to keep players fresh while everyone is fit.