Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on;
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
(parts of a poem by Philip Larkin)
Which is a roundabout way of saying that this is going to be a fairly brief preview, because the “day-job” is going berserk at the moment!
Fact is, Gloucester are top of the Premiership with five wins, a draw and (very oddly), not one bonus point. They have been winning “ugly”. I gather the win against Bath was fine, but they did not twist the knife as they would normally seek to do, they made a terrible start against Quins before pulling away, came from behind to draw against Leicester, won “ugly” against Worcester etc. This suggests to me that Gloucester are a very experienced, high quality side that have not “clicked” yet. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen on Friday! At least the MadStad is not a favourite ground for the Cherry-and-Whites…
Gloucester’s only losses have come in the EDF rip-off (where they fielded an “Alex Ferguson Carling Cup Memorial XV” against Ospreys) and in the Heineken Cup, where they were beaten up by Agen up front and (I gather) given a lesson in ‘streetwise’ forward play and in backline running angles by Leinster (who do have a decent pair of centres, as I recall!)
So I guess London Irish and Gloucester have these things in common: we’re both out of the Heineken Cup and both have a shout in the EDF. And I suppose that both will be missing players to the Autumn internationals (Balshaw, Allen, Richards, Nieto and Bortolami as a minimum for Gloucester and Tagicakibau, Tiesi, Mapusua and Leguizamon for Irish) and both have some on-going injury problems.
But there the similarities end. Irish have struggled to reproduce their stunning rugby of last season and have only shown brief signs of the cohesion and flow of which they are capable. There have been increasing signs recently that things may be coming together, but with a long Irish injury list and the loss of key players to the Autumn Internationals, I’m afraid I don’t expect a surprise win on Friday. Gloucester are top. Any side that can beat Saracens last weekend with a bench that included Azam, Collapso (seen in one report!), Pendlebury, Thirlby and Mercier is a force to be reckoned with…
Irish want to kick on after an “eventful” win against Bath and will probably welcome back Bob Casey to the starting XV - he should now be fully match-fit and raring to go, after apparently winning a Senate seat for Pennsylvania last night – and that against a Republican…!!! Gloucester have a poor record at the Madejski, but with serious forward might to call on, I fear Gloucester should win a tight game, with Irish possibly getting a losing bonus point. Califano, Bortolami, Nieto [tho the Italian Stalians will be away on Italy duty], Mefin Davies, Collazo, Azam, Buxton, Eustace are the basis of a half-way decent pack of forwards! I am looking forward to seeing Nick Wood, who I hear is a very promising loosehead and Rory Lawson, who is reputed to have a very quick service at scrum-half.
“Should” and “expect” indicate a probable Gloucester win…
“Could” and “hope” leave the door open for an upset!