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Walkinshaw: No panic at Gloucester

A summer spent plotting for the Aviva Premiership play-offs slipped into an autumn avoiding a relegation battle.

When Gloucester ground past Saracens 28-23 at Kingsholm in April hopes were hoisted high for Nigel Davies' second season.

The Cherry and Whites started 2014 with a comprehensive 29-8 home defeat to the same opponents though, to complete a miserable first half of the league campaign.

Gloucester have suffered five defeats from seven home Premiership clashes, an unwanted Kingsholm record, so long impenetrable fortress, too often this term open house.

Former boss Dean Ryan said he has not seen Gloucester in such dire straits for nigh on two decades.

Kidology aside, the Worcester rugby director's words not only stung, they had to be accepted.

"There's no secret this season hasn't gone to plan," executive chairman Ryan Walkinshaw told Press Association Sport.

"We were targeting top four this term and at the moment we're in the bottom four.

"That is unacceptable for the amount of money we've put into our playing department, what we expect and what the fans expect from us as a club with our history, tradition and potential.

"It's been a disappointing start to the season, we had seen some improvement over the last two games, but then Saracens was a big step back.

"It's not panic-stations in the slightest, the main aim for the rest of this season is to get into the top six, and that's still very much achievable.

"It's of huge psychological importance to get some belief and confidence into the squad.

"We were expecting the top four, and the fact we're not there is hugely disappointing, there's no shying away from that at all."

Davies guided Gloucester to a fifth-place finish after replacing Bryan Redpath last term, then promptly targeted the top four this time out.

The Kingsholm men sit ninth in the current standings.

Early-season pack frailties stem in part from club captain Jim Hamilton's summer departure to Montpellier.

Tonga prop Sila Puafisi's mid-season arrival alleviates some shortcomings, while high-profile captures Richard Hibbard and John Afoa should add steel next season.

Walkinshaw knows immediate improvement is required too though, that Gloucester cannot simply offer jam tomorrow.

One area of change centres around contracts: Gloucester started the season with some 18 frontline stars whose deals expire this summer.

Akapusi Qera has left for Toulouse in mid-season while England fly-half Freddie Burns is poised to join Leicester in the summer.

Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Trinder, Charlie Sharples and James Simpson-Daniel are all tied to new deals.

But more importantly, according to Walkinshaw, contract lengths are now being staggered to avoid a routine scenario where half the squad's deals are up for renewal each season.

An era of change has swept Gloucester since Walkinshaw's father and club owner Tom died in December 2010.

Walkinshaw junior hopes an upturn in results now can usher in a period of stability.

"We do want stability going forward," said Walkinshaw.

"There's not a huge amount of value in chopping and changing all the time.

"We've had huge changes over the last four or five years in the squad, so that's why it's been so critical getting our recruitment right this year, focusing on keeping the likes of Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Trinder.

"We want to build a squad around those guys, and add in high-class acquisitions like Afoa and Hibbard.

"The expiration of contracts is something we let ourselves down with in our previous coaching set-up.

"Nigel (Davies) ended up in a situation whereby a huge percentage of our squad was out of contract in one year."

World Cup winner Phil Vickery knows all about exploiting Kingsholm's fervent atmosphere after 11 years with the Cherry and Whites between 1995 and 2006.

But the former England and Lions prop admitted that passion can be a double-edged sword.

"I couldn't believe the atmosphere at the weekend," the 37-year-old told the Press Association.

"Playing at home at the moment, the players can feel that pressure.

"When things go well Gloucester use the atmosphere and the supporters to really fire them on.

"But it was almost suppressive against Saracens.

"They've got to learn to harness the crowd when things aren't going well.

"That whole place can get very difficult when things start to fall apart a little bit.

"The privilege of playing for Gloucester is that everybody loves their rugby. But when you don't perform people are very passionate and will express that in no uncertain terms.

"One of the reasons I fell in love with the city and the county is the fact that people do care.

"But it can be a horrible place when things aren't going well. You've got to keep a balanced perspective."

He added: "The worst-case scenario is that Nigel Davies gets sacked: what good would that do?

"There would have to be a new coach, wanting his own coaching team and players.

"That whole cycle would have to start again.

"Gloucester need stability: it's easy to be critical of the set-up, but the club have got to back the coaching team.

"And if they do I think they can turn it round, the worst thing anyone can do now is panic."


From Belfast Telegraph