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The 'kick in the gut' that has sharpened Gloucester boss Skivington

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)

Gloucester boss George Skivington has revealed how deeply his team’s disappointing Christmas Eve loss at Leicester affected him, making for a distracted time with family over the holiday period. The Cherry and Whites led 8-6 at the Welford Road break but then went on to suffer a heavy 13-28 defeat, the loss arriving eight days after they had been walloped at Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup.

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Left to drive home alone rather than on the team bus, Skivington used the solitude to reflect on the inconsistent first half of the Gloucester campaign and he vowed to put things right, starting with last weekend’s bounce-back win over London Irish which will now be followed by this Friday’s Kingsholm visit of league leaders Saracens.

“My own admission halfway through the season is I tried to push the team on in certain areas so hard that I probably lost sight of a few bits that actually made us really good last year – that is my learning for the first half of the season. We have got to make sure we have got our foundations to push on,” volunteered Skivington, the Gloucester boss since the summer of 2020.

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When and how did this epiphany occur, though? “I’ll be honest, it was a long drive home on Christmas Eve from Leicester. I was going to see some family so I drove home on my own. We started that game really well and came in at half-time and we had lost four backs or whatever it was. We ended up in some tricky spots but it didn’t excuse in my mind that we got very loose under pressure at Welford Road in our own 22 and when you watch the game back, Leicester just kicked the ball behind us.

“I have said before, as a coach you are as emotional as anyone after a game and you have got to be quicker than anyone else to pull it together and go, ‘Right, what is the solution?’ I tried to be jolly on Christmas Day for the sake of my kids and their cousins and nephews and all the rest of it, but I did a bit of referencing things and going back over training.

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“Like I say, at the end of last year I thought we were very good at the foundations of our game but evidently, we didn’t play enough to merit being in the top four. We weren’t unlucky, we didn’t do enough and I wanted to push that on. We started in a good spot but probably as the season has gone on we have been going, ‘Right, let’s push it’. Then you come up against some of the teams like Leicester, who play a very pragmatic game, and it gets on top of you and then some permutations change and you are going, ‘Why couldn’t we stick to the plan?’

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“Then you have got to look at yourself in the mirror and go, ‘Have I given a good enough plan?’ When I reflect I go, ‘Okay, I’m not angry because it was right to try and push the game on but I have got to acknowledge there has got to be a balance’. We worked two years to put a really good thing in place and we want to get better but you can lose track of what your foundations are built on.

“We had some good chats last week before London Irish as a group and the boys felt it was good we addressed some things. It’s not tough fixes because we have done all those stuff mentally many times, it’s just realities of how long it takes to build certain areas of the game. You want it all to happen quickly and I pushed it a bit hard. We haven’t stopped doing things we are good at but we haven’t probably paid them the attention we did last year and that is something we have addressed for the second half of the season hopefully.”

What clubs are the benchmark for being the all-round team that Gloucester and Skivington want to be? “It is very difficult to be an all-round team… Saracens, where they have taken their game this year makes them very, very elite. They have got an all-round game.

“They have got a lot of experienced superstar players in that team so you can get away with a few mistakes when you are trying to push the game on with having 15 internationals on the field, but I do think they are in a very good spot with that.

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“Leinster obviously have a very good all-round game, very strong across the board, their kicking game, the way they play set-piece. They would be the two that jump to mind but again it is something to shoot for, something to aim for.

“I don’t think we are a million miles off, not being a complete rugby team but being nearer to where we want to get to. We just muddied the waters a little the last couple of months and sometimes it takes a kick in the gut and a long Christmas Eve drive home to go, ‘Right, I need to take a real dive into this to work out where we are missing a couple of bits’.”

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