Bottling the passion
August 21, 2012
Nigel Davies in his new surroundings © Getty Images
There are few rugby stadiums that rival the passion and the atmosphere of Kingsholm. On match day, come rain or shine, the Shed faithful stand there in their droves, baying for opposition blood while forming the sea of cherry and white cheering on Gloucester. Players have spoken in the past that if they're on your side, then they're the 16th man, but if you are facing them in the blue, black and white of Bath, their fierce rivals, then it can have the opposite effect.
If you travel over the bridge and into Wales, head down the M4 and on to a couple of smaller roads, eventually you'll reach another one of rugby's strongholds - the Parc y Scarlets. Last season saw England No.8 Ben Morgan make the switch from the Scarlets to Gloucester and his boss Nigel Davies also opted to trade red for cherry and white later in the season. Bryan Redpath's controversial departure is still probably an elephant in the room in the corridors of Kingsholm, but in Davies, they have a man who knows what it takes to nurture promising talent - having brought through Rhys Priestland, George North and Jonathan Davies - and he also understands the importance of a team playing with the commitment that their supporters expect.
One of Davies' first actions as coach was to retain ex-England centre Mike Tindall and then appoint Jim Hamilton as skipper. Hamilton is a second-row who never shirks the physical nature of the game and sometimes finds himself on the wrong side of the law on the field, but he is impressed with the early impact that the ex-Scarlets coach has had, claiming that "his natural passion and drive rubs off onto the players".
It is this notion of 'passion' - something intangible but intrinsically linked with any form of competitive sport - that is so key to Davies' vision for Gloucester, but he is fully aware of the expectation that comes with the frequent sell-out crowds at Kingsholm.
"The club is pretty similar to what I'm used to - a great bunch of boys and a fantastic support base who are very passionate," Davies told ESPN. "There's a lot of work to do initially in managing the change as we're just two months into it. The start has been great and we're probably a little bit ahead of where I thought we'd be but there's still a lot of work to do.
"But having said that, it's very important to get success and that's what we're focused on. I'm sure we will get success but that might not come immediately. We can't hide from that fact, and I wouldn't dare to, but it's a long, long season and it's about maintaining a high level of continuity and performance that will put ourselves into contention."
This will be Davies' first season in the Premiership and while he is used to facing top-flight opposition in the Heineken Cup, the relentless nature of the season is something that nearly every coach highlighted at the launch of the new campaign. To a man they claimed it will be the most open season in Premiership history - with, in the words of Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea, "every team capable, on their day, of beating any other team in the league".
Gloucester have flirted with the play-offs and the Premiership final in recent years but are still searching for that elusive title. Davies is reluctant to bang the drum of the top four but with Morgan and All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan, along with their myriad of young speedsters at the back of the field, that is where they should be aiming.
But they do not have a divine right for the play-off spots.
"The one thing that we've said that we won't put any limits on ourselves either individually or collectively," Davies said. "We can achieve whatever we want to achieve. We have to believe in that and we have to build that belief through performances - like the Leinsters and Leicesters of this world do.
"They constantly come back in the final 10 minutes of matches and win because they always think they are going to win. That's the type of culture we want to build and whether we can do that, I don't know, but that's the aim."
'Heads up' rugby is the framework Davies wants his team to play within but even he admits "no matter what you do as a coach, 99% of the decisions are made on the field so it's more about giving them belief". It will be figures like Hamilton who Davies hopes will engrains his ethos onto the rest of the XV - illustrated through the coach labelling the second-row the team's "talisman".
Gloucester will look to Jim Hamilton for their inspiration this season © Getty Images
Hamilton finished last season with a red card to his name for his part in a brutal brawl with David Paice and he is aware that, at a base level, the captain is much more useful on the field than in the sin-bin. But he is adamant that, perhaps rightly so, he will not cower back into his shell and play the angel, especially when the devil is sometimes required.
"We've got a team of natural leaders in their own right so not a lot really changes for me," Hamilton said. "I'll work with lots of the key decisions in the game but I am what I am. The reason I have been chosen as captain is because of the way I play."
After talking to both men, you cannot help but feel that there is an exciting season in store at Kingsholm. They've got a physical captain, a coach who is prepared to let the team play what's in front of them rather than relying on kicks from the tee, and supporters who will always flock through the gates in their droves. But there will be one buzzword that will be doing the rounds throughout the campaign that both captain and coach alike are so keen to emphasise - passion.
"It's always a cliché that we should take each game as it comes but I think this year, with the new coaching set-up, that's what we are going to have do," Hamilton said. "I've told the guys that we must go out there and play with passion and while you have the jersey on, we must never give up. We must show the commitment and courage that the people of Gloucester expect us to."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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