Planet Rugby

Davies couldn't match club's ambition

12th May 2014 14:35

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Dismissed: Nigel Davies

The fact that Nigel Davies last game in charge of Gloucester was a loss to relegated Worcester is a fitting end to his time at Kingsholm.

Gloucester announced on Monday that they had parted ways with the Welshman after the "playing performances and results during 2013-14 were a big disappointment to everyone at the club."

Gloucester are a club, much like Bath, who possess a fundamental belief that they should be battling in the top four every season for the title. Last season they finished 5th.

Except doing that is more difficult than ever. There were six legitimate contenders for the top four places this season, from Saracens to Sale, while Wasps and Exeter both threatened at times that they were also in the hunt. Gloucester have only made the playoffs once now since 2008.

In the end they finished only marginally closer to the playoffs than to relegation - 23 points behind fourth placed Harlequins and 28 above bottom club Worcester. That's a minimum of five wins plus a few bonus points short of making the top four.

In many ways the first result of Gloucester's season was an omen of things to come. Losing at home to Sale saw a club expected to succeed slump to a mediocre loss, while the visiting side who narrowly avoided the drop last season began their upward trajectory.

The defence has been a major fault, with coach Paul Moriarty's position called into question after Gloucester conceded 539 points this season at an average of 24.5 per game in the Premiership.

The repeated woes at the scrum early on in the season were also crippling, until the arrival of Sila Puafisi to shore up a glaring weakness at tighthead helped them out.

For years the emphasis at Kingsholm has seemingly been on exciting backs - with the Mays, Trinders and Sharples of the world - but there haven't been the best foundations possible upfront.

That's set to change for next season. Richard Hibbard and John Afoa have signed, quality front rowers both. Mariano Galarza and Tom Palmer will solidify the second row. Greig Laidlaw is a points machine.

The timing of Davies' departure feels strange given that Gloucester's squad for next season will have his stamp all over it for the first time, now that the majority of contracts from before his time have either been renewed or expired.

One more season to perform with those players, as had been previously hinted at by owner Ryan Walkinshaw, would have seemed fairer.

But it's too little too late for Davies. The former Scarlets boss, who arrived to such fanfare in 2012 after helping the region produce exceptional results with limited resources in Europe, has been "an excellent ambassador for the club."

The defeats though are hard to ignore. Gloucester only picked up two wins from their first seven Premiership matches at home, a record that meant their high ambitions were never going to be matched.

The ongoing saga with Freddie Burns future was also a unnecessary distraction, when a simple statement confirming his departure early on would have quietened things down. Top players such as Ben Morgan and Matt Kvesic have not played to their potential.

Yet putting the Worcester result to one side, Gloucester had appeared to be turning a corner as the season wore on - ready for the influx of new recruits and with their scrum stabilised following the arrival of fan favourite Trevor Woodman to oversee it's recovery.

Who comes in for Davies is a different matter. Gary Gold is now contracted in Japan, Mark Hammett of the Hurricanes seems set to join Cardiff Blues. The rumours of Dean Richards joining have previously been rife.

Whoever it is, the new man will arrive to a quality squad, but into a director of rugby role that Gloucester rightly or wrongly view as "one of the most prestigious in club rugby", despite not winning a major trophy since 2006 or the league since 2002.

It will take a big character. Sadly, Davies - well liked, but with too many poor results to excuse - has had his chance.

by Ben Coles

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