I thought my former club Gloucester might struggle this season but here they are: already qualified for next year’s European Champions Cup, in the Challenge Cup final and firmly in contention for a top-four Premiership finish.
For now, the latter is their priority and they face a big south-west derby against Bath at Kingsholm on Saturday as they bid to gatecrash the end-of-season play-offs – they are currently in sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Newcastle.
Gloucester showed immense resolve following the collapse of last year’s proposed takeover by France-based businessman Mohed Altrad, who also owns Montpellier, as the club could have capitulated.
So much credit must go to director of rugby David Humphreys and coach Johan Ackermann, who joined the Cherry and Whites from Super Rugby side the Lions prior to the 2017-18 campaign.
Ackermann has worked wonders and has instilled some South African grit and organisation into the squad, which now has a real belief and discipline, while Humphreys has focused on his core skills of team management.
You look at some of the players too: centre Henry Trinder is now showing real form and consistency and I love watching full-back Jason Woodward; he is physical, runs fabulous lines and scares defenders – he’s a real talent.
They also utilise fly-halves Owen Williams and Billy Burns perfectly depending on how they wish to play. Williams controls the game better and is more tactically astute, whereas Burns is more loose, free-flowing and attacking.
Factor in their former England players Ben Morgan and Billy Twelvetrees, who remain of international calibre, and the likes of Ed Slater and his transformation of Gloucester’s line-out and this is a quality side playing out of their skin. I’m really pleased for the whole city.
Gloucester, given their fanbase, the club’s infrastructure and financial backing, is a team which merits a first spot in the European Champions Cup since 2013-14 after a period of underachievement.
Winning silverware is always amazing and a second Challenge Cup victory in four years would be impressive, although finishing in the top four and giving themselves a chance of winning the title would be huge for them.
I think they will seal a place in the play-offs but I don’t believe they have enough quality to beat other title contenders such as Exeter, Saracens and Wasps, although they aren’t too far away.
For so long, Gloucester have been a team in transition trying to rekindle the glory days when they had the likes of Andy Hazell, Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel and topped the Premiership three times in six years, and they’re definitely getting there.
I believe next season will be much harder, however, despite them pulling off a major coup in signing Bath’s Matt Banahan, as this term they have been able to play without any pressure given the lack of expectation.
They will have to have a stronger and deeper squad to cope with the top European competition but there is certainly the sense that Gloucester have re-established themselves and are hitting the levels they ought to be.
Ollie Phillips is leading a group of inspiring individuals to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro this October. To join him visit https://www.360-expeditions.com/expeditions/ollie-phillips-kilimanjaro/