Gloucester Rugby v Bath: A performance of infamy when we craved an epic
IT was the look of the lost.
Disconsolate Jimmy Cowan trudged off the Kingsholm field, shaking his head, with that look in his eye.
It was a look that lasted just a second but will linger for some time.
A look that strikes fear into all who bear witness.
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For this was the look of a man who knows what the problems are but also realises he has no answers.
The nonplussed World Cup winner had just suffered one of those gut-wrenching days when he took the wrong option at every turn.
The seasoned All Black's commitment and drive are not in question, let's be quite clear.
But his woeful performance proved the nadir of Gloucester's worst offering this season.
Both Cowan and Gloucester are suffering an identity crisis.
The 51-cap scrum-half arrived in October to the soundtrack of triumphant trumpet fanfares.
He arrived with the explicit brief of running the Cherry and Whites show, expecting to do just that.
So far he has not been able to hit that mark – though in his tidiest times he certainly exudes uncomplicated graft.
Keep it simple, stupid: that's what Cowan should tell himself now.
The former deep-freeze cattle cleaver is one of rugby's great enablers.
Rather than force the issue and search the stellar showing, Cowan should sharpen up the basics – and revert to his invitations business.
The subtle little inside balls after lingering lateral crabbing, the delayed passes to pull defenders apart: that's the Jimmy Cowan Gloucester need now.
That's the Jimmy Cowan that Jimmy Cowan needs now too.
He is the kind of scrum-half who opens the door, ushers you through it and helps you find what you're after.
Southland's favourite son should forget all about quick-tap penalties from his own 22, and concentrate on gift-wrapping the line-breaks and counter-attacks for his team-mates.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies saw that look from Cowan: he knows it all too well.
The Kingsholm rugby director must share the very same haunting feeling.
The famed resilience that underpinned the first half of Gloucester's season: that was only supposed to be the beginning.
Davies has big plans for Gloucester to develop and mature at a rapid rate in his first year in charge.
So far so unsuccessful, despite some seriously impressive victories.
And now Gloucester's season comes to the crunch.
The crossroads splits between top-four glory and a play-off battle, or mid-table mediocrity and a frustrating finish.
Davies' Gloucester team bus is sat at the junction with the engine running – but the jury is still out on which way the Cherry and White double-decker will turn.
Gloucester are still searching for that devastating performance.
Derby days revolve around the retelling of myth and folklore – but on Saturday night all the tall tales were relived at the wrong end of the A46.
This was a performance and result of infamy, when Gloucester seriously craved an epic.
Wreaking rugby havoc requires rhythm, tempo, pace, pathos, haughtiness, confidence, elan and no little trickery.
Punchy attacks have a metre all of their own, just as lines of verse need complex composition so that they scan correctly.
Such poetry has a set structure – and also a fairly typical storyline too – but within all that rigidity there is still room for flair, ingenuity, originality.
It is exactly the same for Davies, and Gloucester.
Just as the great quill-wielders of every era have struggled for the blend, so Davies and Co now follow suit. Every poetic hero too has a struggle they must overcome, a hardship to endure: the low point always without fail proves the catalyst for success.
It simply must be the same for Gloucester now – otherwise Saturday's epic failure against oldest and fiercest rivals will never command a positive context.
Never in the annals of Kingsholm history have the faithful had to endure such a comprehensive and wretched derby day drubbing – especially from a decidedly-average Bath outfit. Carl Fearns aside, the Blue Black and Whites are not yet a top-table force.
That such a piecemeal side could swashbuckle to five tries – four unanswered in the second half – ought to hurt Gloucester's very core.
Gloucester's heaviest professional-era Kingsholm defeat to Bath: stark story, dark day.
For the wretched record, Olly Woodburn, Nick Abendanon, Mat Gilbert, Semesa Rokoduguni and Stephen Donald claimed the Bath scores.
Huia Edmonds capped a driving lineout for Gloucester's only points, the home side hamstrung by first-half sin-bins for Andy Hazell and Tom Savage – not to mention inaccuracy and inability to retain possession.
Hazell's tip-tackle on Rob Webber was more clumsy than malicious, while Savage hauled a man down at a lineout.
Sam Vesty's tap-pass sent Woodburn home, Horacio Agulla made the extra man for Abendanon, and Gilbert drove through the middle for number three.
Rokoduguni zipped through the ether untouched for a horrid fourth – before Donald added the final insult with a cakewalk break at treacle pace.
Davies' Cherry and Whites have plenty of the components required for a successful play-off push.
Now it is all about putting those pieces in the right order – making that metre scan.
When they find their flow, they will not quite be able to explain why it works: they will simply know that it does.
But there can be no more delay.
Unless Gloucester produce poetry in motion more often than not in the next month, all those top-four cravings will remain unsated for yet another year.
Gloucester: R Cook, C Sharples, M Tindall (capt) (M Thomas, 68), T Molenaar (B Burns, 56), S Monahan, R Mills, J Cowan (D Robson, 61), D Murphy (Y Thomas, 61), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk, 41), R Harden (T Heard, 70), T Savage, L Lokotui, P Buxton (A Qera, 56), A Hazell, S Kalamafoni (G Evans, 68).
BATH: N Abendanon, H Agulla (S Rokoduguni, 57), M Banahan (J Cuthbert, 69), S Vesty, O Woodburn, S Donald, P Stringer (C Cook, 69), C Beech (N Catt, 57), R Webber (T Dunn, 74), A Perenise (K Palma-Newport, 67), D Attwood, D Day (W Spencer, 68), F Louw (capt), C Fearns, B Skirving (M Gilbert, 39).
REFEREE: Ian Davies.