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The curious case of Gloucester Rugby

Gloucester Rugby have a had a strange, yet somehow successful 2023/2024 campaign. The Premiership might not have gone as planned, but George Skivington’s side sit just 80 minutes away from a second trophy. 

The Cherry and Whites are unbeaten in 14 cup matches this season. They had to navigate a tough cup run to lift the Premiership Cup back in March; defeating Saracens, Harlequins, Exeter Chiefs and Leicester on their road to glory. The Challenge Cup hasn’t been a walk in the park for them either. George Skivington’s side have beaten Castres, Ospreys, Benetton, Clermont Auvergne and Black Lion on the way to the final.

The cup competitions have been a huge target for Gloucester this season. A run of nine Premiership losses in a row ended their season before it really got going, however this allowed them to fully shift their focus onto the cup competitions.

“I wouldn’t say it’s massively different,” Skivington previously detailed. “I’d say just more the timing of the season. We had six games in the Prem back to back that we lost, which was massively damaging to our Prem campaign; but it also meant we addressed a few issues.”

“We refocused on things that we’ve traditionally been pretty good at and we’ve got a much fitter squad. There was a period where we didn’t have a healthy squad and a lot of those guys who are frontliners if you like weren’t available. In all honesty, this is probably more of a timing thing with the European Cup that has lined up with a sort of reset.”

“The first game of the European Cup came at a time where, I don’t want to say I blew my lid but I was definitely fired up. I think we had some very clear things to go after and the boys went after them and they’ve continued on that and. Apart from Bristol at home, we’ve been pretty on it since that point and that just happens to have been a lot of the European games within that period.”

Skivington might feel it was down to some fortunate timings, but the Cherry and Whites still find themselves on course for a heroic double.

More importantly, this cup success could land them a spot in the Champions Cup for next season too. They currently sit outside of the top eight, and despite having two games to go they cannot move up or down the table; but if they win against the Sharks on the 24th of May they will (quite brutally) take Leicester Tigers’ spot as the eighth Premiership side in Europe’s premier competition.

There is also nothing better than silverware for confidence amongst a group. The Premiership Cup triumph saw a big boost in Gloucester’s results, as they won 3 of their next four games after the final; imagine what winning a European title could do going into pre-season and the regular campaign too.

Gloucester can certainly take plenty of positives out of their Cup performances this season, and it should put them in a decent position ahead of next year.

For a little bit of extra incentive, Bristol Bears were the last English team to win the Challenge Cup, and the year after they finished top of the Premiership…

Gloucester Rugby blooding youngsters

Josh Hathaway celebrates Gloucester’s victory

Whilst Skivington has kept the big names like Ollie Thorley, Jonny May and to an extent Zach Mercer back a bit for the Challenge Cup, he has given plenty of young players exposure ahead of next season.

The likes of Seb Blake and Josh Hathaway have quickly become mainstays in the side, and have shown they are more than capable of nailing down starting shirts for next season. Furthermore, the side traveling up to Franklin’s Gardens this weekend also boasts a number of promising Gloucester academy graduates.

These experiences will prove crucial in their development ahead of next season, as they will give a much wider base of players exposure to the highest level rather whilst the pressure is fully off than throwing them in the deep end next season.

This is something Skivington has detailed in the past too, and he feels this is a good way for his players to find out more about themselves ready for next year.

“We’ve been honest as a group about what these games are about. There’s opportunity for the squad, we’ve also got a chance for some players to play.”

“Before the end of the season, there’s some players I would like to see play in the premiership so that I’ve got an absolute understanding of everybody in the building in the toughest games.”

“There’s an opportunity to drip a few lads in there just just to see where they’re at and we go into next season with absolute clarity.”

You hardly ever get an opportunity like this to really test a whole crop of academy players, however these last few Premiership games could really allow certain players to kick on ready for next season; setting Gloucester up in a nice position to attack the league.