So far, so good for Davies' Cherry and White revolution
GLOUCESTER'S old sages scanned the Kingsholm changing room, and were met by a sea of nonplussed faces.
A confused gaggle of gurning campaigners sat in stark silence, wondering how things had slumped so low.
Sounds like the end of last season? Either Newcastle or Sale? Wrong.
This was halfway through the hotly-awaited debut of Nigel Davies' much-vaunted new era.
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Northampton Saints tore Gloucester apart in the first-half of the season's opening-day clash.
The Cherry and Whites had no answers in defence, and precious little incision or imagination in attack.
At the Premiership season's halfway point, with Gloucester sat deservedly fourth, that seems little short of ridiculous.
But as the teams turned around on Saturday, September 1, Davies' Kingsholm reign was only 40 minutes old – and facing one of its greatest acid tests.
Had Gloucester capitulated the new stewardship would have faced immediate query.
Instead, despite defeat, the Kingsholm men battered back, pulling the trigger on a sequence of seriously rapid progress.
That woeful Northampton first-half remains the anomaly of Davies' impressive Cherry and Whites start.
The instant second-half fightback was built on Gloucester's most potent weapon this season – the scrum.
A penalty try proved just reward for an afternoon of graft and acumen from Gloucester's pack, a portent of set-piece supremacy.
Gloucester emerged from that immediate crisis with 24-19 defeat – but with spirit unbowed, and several vital lessons learned.
New rugby director Davies refused to put any limits on Gloucester's potential for this campaign – in effect a canny way of dodging the question of how highly he rated his side in pre-season.
But even the master of moderation would quietly concede his side now have a real opportunity to strike for the Premiership play-offs.
Davies' Gloucester overhaul has been comprehensive, swift and savvy.
The man also boasts impeccable timing: he arrived just as Gloucester could plough extra funds into coaching arrangements.
Restructuring repayments on the loan to build the Grandstand have helped stabilise Gloucester's business situation, and the club is now expected to turn a profit for the second year in succession.
So where Bryan Redpath and Carl Hogg had to grind on manfully, Davies was able to select a more comprehensive back-room set-up.
Praise must go to Redpath and John Brain for recruiting Paddy Anson from Exeter Chiefs.
The new strength and conditioning boss helps shape Gloucester's renewed attitude and drive, and the former Marine has whipped the Cherry and Whites into one of the league's fittest squads.
It was a masterstroke by Davies to hand Mike Tindall a player-coaching role though, when his Kingsholm exit had grown ever closer under the previous regime.
Davies needed continuity between old and new, and a go-between from squad to coaching staff.
Tindall provides both, remains as laid-back as ever – and has taken to his new role with vigour, producing his finest form for several years.
Taskmaster defence coach Paul Moriarty offers a no-nonsense balance, with Tony Windo's scrum work developing the firm foundations that are just part of the late Brain's impressive Kingsholm legacy.
All of this was in place before the big kick-off then – Davies had worked fast.
And that's why that opening against Saints proved such a shock.
Fortunately it was not to last – and if the Northampton recovery was pivotal, so too was 40-31 victory at London Irish.
Gloucester could easily have slipped to defeat at the Madejski Stadium, but Ben Morgan's snapshot try seemed to galvanise the Cherry and Whites.
The increasingly-hailed resilience of this squad was born in Reading that afternoon, as Davies' men shrugged off conceding three tries to edge home.
And maybe too that was the day that everything clicked for gifted fly-half Freddie Burns.
His seven penalties and near-flawless kicking cemented the result, but his astute decision-making indicated a growing maturity that would lead to his deserved England debut against the All Blacks later in the autumn.
After sneaking out of Sixways with a fortunate 16-16 draw against Worcester, Gloucester saw off Wasps 29-22 at Kingsholm.
Gritty victory at London Welsh then confirmed Gloucester's burgeoning confidence and calm under pressure, before the Cherry and Whites stole derby bragging rights with 16-10 triumph over Bath.
One Jimmy Cowan made his debut that day, getting the better of old mate Stephen Donald.
Bath's World Cup winner strolled in untouched for a shocking try from the off.
But once again that resilience shone through, Rob Cook's score and Burns' boot enough for the spoils.
Andy Hazell's moment of madness was the only blot on an otherwise impressive European Challenge Cup fortnight, the flanker banned for 14 weeks for his punching in Mont de Marsan.
A typically-fraught Kingsholm clash with Leicester Tigers followed – but Gloucester were deserved winners, thanks in no small part to Burns' sleight of hand.
Taunted by team-mates for trying the chip and chase too often, Burns pulled one out of the hat to register a fine solo try.
And his defence-turning grubber put Charlie Sharples in for a score too.
Stubborn defeat at Harlequins gave way to LV=Cup loss at Ospreys, before Gloucester rallied past Fiji, London Welsh and then Sale in the return of league action.
A slender loss at Saracens proved a frustration, but Gloucester smashed past London Irish in consecutive Amlin Challenge Cup clashes to tee up quarter-final qualification.
Bludgeoning 18-16 Exeter victory on Saturday restored Gloucester to fourth in the league – and sustaining that berth is now the all-consuming goal.
Full-on attacking fluency still eludes Davies' men, but while they will chase style they will never abandon substance.
So far, so very good – and so impressively quickly – but to succeed at the business end, Gloucester will need even greater staying power and durability.