GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Tom Lawday of Exeter Chiefs looks to break past Freddie Clarke of Gloucester Rugby during the Champions Cup match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on December 14, 2018 in Gloucester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Gloucester continually fails to retain any momentum for longer than two or three games. Picking up good wins and performances over Worcester and Exeter away in recent weeks, the side came tumbling back down to earth on Friday. As Gloucester Rugby lose momentum ‘too easily’ how can the team repair that mental block?

With a sloppy performance at home to the Exeter Chiefs, Robert Rees takes a look at why Gloucester need to retain any momentum and how they might bounce back – as their Heineken Champions Cup qualification hopes appeared to be severely dented.

Gloucester Rugby struggle for consistency

The Cherry and Whites have struggled with injury problems this season and that will not have helped them maintain a high level of consistency, but, with squad depth repaired, they failed to gather more than two wins in succession [in either competition].

This has been the same of late with a dominant performance against Worcester leading to a six try rout before heading to Exeter in the Champions Cup and putting together one of the performances of the season.

The lineout and driving maul has been superbly dominant over the season and was used to full effect in the aforementioned fixtures. Five tries against Worcester involved the lineout and it was unstoppable from the Warriors perspective.

From there, head coach Johan Ackermann has witness ‘ups and down’s that do not give confidence that his side can utilize the strengths they hold.

Lineout such a potent threat in regaining momentum

Numerous targets in the lineout give Gloucester the option to start an attack with varying game plans. Gareth Evans, Freddie Clarke and Ben Morgan have carried well off the set piece, and that has given Danny Cipriani and Owen Williams a great platform to work with.

The driving maul has become a powerful weapon going forward, with a strong front row for Gloucester being pushed along by a big set of locks and back rowers. The speed of delivery from hooker to the back of the maul is what makes it so reliable.

It’s not just a one trick pony though. James Hanson’s try against Worcester was well worked with the ball being transferred from the hooker to the lineout and back to the hooker in a good series of play.

Gloucester lose momentum too easily – including on Friday night

It’s been well documented that Gloucester have been somewhat ‘frustrated’ that there haven’t been many 60-80 minute performances this year. Exeter away was certainly an overall performance. Three games in a row? Not a chance.

The Chiefs dominated possession throughout and got on top of the Gloucester set piece – shutting down any hope of momentum – and stopped Gloucester’s most threatening weapon.

The performances completely reversed from that of the ones at Sandy Park the week before and Johan Ackermann was bitterly disappointed that his side were as poor as that. Telling reporters, ”We knew they were going to bounce back. The quality of what they’ve got in their team we knew we were entering a massive game.

“We will look at ourselves but I’m proud of the guys that we played without a lot of possession and gave away a lot of penalties and two yellow cards and with five minutes to go we were still in the game and could still win the game if you go the full length of the field.”

The key for Gloucester is to keep the ball. If they hold 55% possession and territory or higher they are usually comfortable with and without the ball. It’s when teams like Exeter hold the majority of possession that they struggle.

Gloucester players practice their lineouts before the Champions Cup match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on December 14, 2018 in Gloucester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Gloucester have a good counter-attacking game, but they don’t rely on it as it isn’t their strong point. They need a platform to work off. The back row is usually where that’s built from. However injuries to Ruan Ackermann, Lewis Ludlow, Jaco Kriel and at one point; with Ben Morgan away, it offered little stability in terms of consistency.

The starting XV was a strong one yesterday but, the reluctance from Ackermann to empty the bench rather summed up the team’s inexperienced depth at the moment.

Champions Cup qualification hopes severly dented

Gloucester fell to fourth place in Pool 2, with their second defeat, and head coach Johan Ackermann insists it could well end their hopes of getting to the knockout stages saying, ”for sure. As long as Munster keep winning it’ll be hard to catch them and it’s going to be challenging for us to be involved now.

“We’ll take it at the next hurdle when Munster come here and we’ll take it and see where we are in the New Year. We took a lot of confidence out of last week, and [sadly] we were not there tonight.”

With points, home-and-away counting for plenty, unable to secure any rewards will hurt further, after an incident during the match disrupted Gloucester Rugby’s momentum. Danny Cipriani left the field with his right arm held to his side, and the sides ability to compile attack from there lessened. Post-match Ackermann revealed it could well be a pectoral injury. ”It’s a difficult one at this stage. He’s in a sling and obviously, the big thing is whether the scan shows if it’s a shoulder because they initially thought it was the shoulder but it looks like it’s more in the pectoral area of his chest.

“Hopefully it’s something that won’t keep him out for weeks and months.”

Cherry and Whites keeping an eye on Castres v Munster

Castres taking on Munster after their game allows Gloucester to look at what they’ll have to do, come the next European block of Pool 2. Despite this, Ackermann said he is firmly thinking about the Premiership saying, ”If we can be part of this tournament in terms of being competitive and taking it forward, we will be. A lot will happen in this week with that game and we’ll see where we are.

“The reality is we’ve let this one slip. It’s gone and we can’t change it. On the night we weren’t good enough and credit to Exeter. Their set piece was good, defence was good in a reversal of last week. Last week we only gave away four penalties in the entire match whereas this week it was something like 15-16 against a quality side.

“After this weekend we’ll see what happens with the Munster game but then our focus will turn back to the Premiership and only ‘when we return to Europe’ we will assess where we are”.

When asked about what tactics or why his side performed below their best, Ackermann pondered. “The reality is tonight we were half a yard slow in everything we did and then the physical side. Last week we were quite physical up front, carried well and defended well but tonight we only played in patches and credit to Exeter they came with a determination and executed better than us on the day.”

”A few things that could have gone 50-50 on some decisions didn’t go our way but like I said last week some go for you and some don’t.”

His opposing head coach Rob Baxter told Last Word on Rugby he was not ‘getting carried away’ with his sides victory. Ackermann might be best not to panic, and to put a focus back on Domestic footy, before looking again at his sides inability to maintain momentum in Europe.

Big Christmas period required by Gloucester Rugby

Newcastle away on the 23rd, and Sale at Kingsholm on December 29 is going to be key games in heading into 2019. Starting the New Year off away to Leicester Tigers is always a difficult task but, it can be made all the easier if they get their lineout back on track in the next fortnight.

There are several players due back from injury in that period with the likes of Paddy McCallister and Ruan Dreyer expected back in the front row and Henry Trinder, Jake Polledri, Jaco Kriel and Mark Atkinson all a matter of weeks at the most.

This should aid their worries as Gloucester look to regain the momentum of the last few weeks.

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