The English Premiership has thrown up a few surprises this season, such as the slight revival of Leicester Tigers, and the bad early form of Northampton Saints and seemingly constant bad form of Gloucester. However, in this game at the Brentford Community Stadium, the league’s bottom side faced a London Irish team in good form and full of excellent players this season, looking to try and pick up only their second win of the season, whereas London Irish were aiming to cement a place in the top half of the table, having been one of the teams some thought would struggle this season.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Gloucester actually played some of the best rugby they have played all season, in particular focusing on the switch of Billy Twelvetrees to fly-half from centre, as well as how London Irish used clever tactics to expose Gloucester’s weaknesses and win the game.
London Irish Gloucester
15. T. Parton 15. J. Woodward
14. B. Loader 14. S. Carreras
13. C. Rona 13. H. Trinder
12. T. Hepetema 12. M. Atkinson
11. O. Hassell-Collins 11. O. Thorley
10. P. Jackson 10. B. Twelvetrees
9. N. Phipps 9. W. Heinz
- W. Goodrick-Clarke 1. J. Ford-Robinson
- A. Creevy 2. H. Walker
- S. Kepu 3. C. Knight
- R. Simmons 4. A. Craig
- A. Coleman 5. M. Alemanno
- M. Rogerson (c) 6. J. Reid
- B. Cowan 7. L. Ludlow (c)
- A. Tuisue 8. R. Ackermann
Gloucester’s positive play
The first thing we will look at is how Gloucester set up well, playing with more confidence than they did last weekend against Northampton Saints.
One thing we pointed out last weekend is that Gloucester had a good early defensive shape, with all of the players organised and leaving no gaps between them. Here, we can see the same thing, but there is also the added presence of a player behind the line, filling several roles. Firstly, they are controlling the line, ensuring no-one steps out and leaves a gap, and secondly, should London Irish break through the line, there is a player who can make a challenge to stop them scoring an easy try. The Exiles were making runs into the line, looking to force a gap to open, but Gloucester held firm, and this will have given them plenty of confidence in the early stages that they could compete in the game, and hopefully pick up some much-needed points.
In attack, Gloucester had also been working on a new way of moving the ball around. In this image, we see how they had two layers to their attack, as indicated by the red lines. This meant that they could move the ball not just down the line in each direction, but also backwards, allowing them to switch the direction of play much more easily. This would make it harder for London Irish to organise themselves defensively, because they wouldn’t be aware of where it would come from or go.
This added creativity allowed Gloucester to look for gaps and space in the Exiles’ defence, but London Irish did well to hold firm and not allow them to run through, which was credit to them. However, from Gloucester’s point of view, this intent to create chances and change the play at will is something they have been missing this season so far, so it will give them confidence that they can get on the front foot in matches, going into the next stages of the season.
Another positive for Gloucester is that their new players are adding more urgency to their play. They have recently brought in 23-year-old Georgia international centre Giorgi Kveseladze, and he has pace, power and a desire to have the ball, which will definitely aid Gloucester in the second half of the season. In this image, we see how the Cherry and Whites have left space open on the wing, as we know they do, and London Irish are in the process of moving the ball out there to get behind the Gloucester players.
However, as centre Curtis Rona passes the ball to full-back Tom Parton, as shown by the blue arrow, Kveseladze runs towards Parton and tackles him, ending the move. With Gloucester constantly leaving these spaces open, this is one way that they could stop teams getting the ball out there if they want to keep playing narrowly. From Kveseladze’s point of view, these were really good signs of what he will bring to Kingsholm, and he could be a really important player for them in attack and defence, if this is anything to go by.
Billy Twelvetrees at fly-half
We have looked at a few areas where Gloucester played well in this game, but one thing tactically that helped them was the decision by Director of Rugby and former Exiles forwards coach George Skivington to move Billy Twelvetrees to fly-half from centre. With Lloyd Evans injured against Northampton Saints last weekend, there did need to be an alteration there, and Twelvetrees was really impressive in that position against the Exiles.
What Twelvetrees does is to bring others into the game, and normally he has to do this from centre. This means that the majority of the team don’t feel the benefits of him directing play, but he could do much more from the middle of the pitch.
The most notable thing that Twelvetrees has is an awareness of what is going on around him. In this image, we see how the former England international delays his pass until the last second, knowing that the London Irish defender would be committed to the tackle when he does release the ball. This sums up the newfound urgency in Gloucester’s attacking play, which they have discovered in the last few weeks. The ball was continually moving through these phases, and London Irish couldn’t organise themselves and close the gaps as a result. It says a lot that Gloucester got their second try shortly after this from lock Alex Craig, who is on Scotland’s radar for this year’s Six Nations, so it just shows how important this type of play is in helping them pose more of a threat.
This image is another example of Twelvetrees making a late pass, allowing the defender to commit and creating space for his teammate, here Australian flanker Jordy Reid, to run through and behind the London Irish defence. The yellow line shows how Reid’s natural speed carries him through, but this again comes down to Twelvetrees being clever with his play, allowing his teammates to get through opposing defences and ask questions of them.
As mentioned, Twelvetrees moving to fly-half meant that more players could get forward and become involved in the game. In this image, we see how centre Henry Trinder, who had come in to take the place of Twelvetrees in the back line, has got forward to support scrum-half Willi Heinz, who has made a brilliant run through and been tackled close to the Exiles’ try line. This time, Trinder doesn’t gather the ball cleanly, and it is knocked forwards, so, whilst we can say that these are the chances they need to take to aid their survival bid, we can also say that it is good to see Gloucester’s backs getting forward into these areas in the first place. Again, this hasn’t always been the case this season, so Twelvetrees’ positional change increased Gloucester’s attacking threat.
Gloucester’s other centre, Mark Atkinson, usually features in the Cherry and Whites’ attacking play anyway, but he seemed to have a little more confidence against London Irish. When he gets into these areas, Gloucester always have a chance of getting points, which shows his importance to them. The slight curve on the arrow shows how he darts around a little before running through the defence, using his trickery to create the chance, and scores the try under pressure from London Irish defenders, but that’s what he brings to the team when in these situations. This didn’t happen last weekend, and is another reason they lacked a threat against Northampton Saints. In this game, they seemed to have much more confidence, posing more of a threat, and played better as a result.
London Irish’s tactics
However, whilst Gloucester played well in this game, and deserved the two bonus points they earned for scoring four tries and losing by a margin of less than seven points, we cannot take away the fact that they were beaten again. This came down to London Irish doing their homework before the game, seeing where the bottom side’s weaknesses are, and devising ways of playing in those areas.
Firstly, we have mentioned a lot in recent weeks about the space that Gloucester leave on the wings when defending, and London Irish looked to move the ball out there as quickly as possible in attack. Here, fly-half Paddy Jackson, in the blue circle, who has been one of the Exiles’ best players this season so far, has seen where winger Ollie Hassell-Collins, in the blue square, is, and plays the long pass out to him. By doing so, he takes away the time from Gloucester to get across and cover that area, and we know how Hassell-Collins is a quick winger who loves scoring tries, and this was another fairly simple one for him. We saw Northampton Saints do this many times against Gloucester last weekend, so it is definitely something they need to keep working on, but we should take nothing away from Jackson and London Irish, who saw the opportunity and space, and used it.
We mentioned how Hassell-Collins possesses plenty of pace, but he is not the only quick player in their team. Here, he again combines well with Jackson, breaking through the Gloucester defence and creating a two-v-two situation against Number 8 Ruan Ackermann and Argentina second row Matias Alemanno on the far side of the pitch, as shown by the red line. However, because of the pace going forward that the Exiles have, they simply passed their way around both players, creating the opportunity to get behind the two Gloucester forwards. Curtis Rona is also involved here, running alongside, offering the passing option when it was needed. Gloucester left too much space open, but, again, we need to credit London Irish for seeing this and tactically playing in a way that exposed these weaknesses.
We have mentioned how Gloucester set up well defensively, but that always lapses as the games go on. This is particularly dangerous against the Exiles, and especially against Hassell-Collins. Here, the winger is running through on his own, but is shortly followed by many of his teammates. When London Irish go, they all go, and that is why they pose so much of a threat in attack. This was more down to London Irish finding space than Gloucester leaving it open, but it still highlights an ongoing area that the Cherry and Whites need to improve in. Only a few passes after this move, Parton scores on the far side of the pitch, so it just shows how important these breaks are, and, again, how London Irish exposed Gloucester’s weaknesses and turned them into scores.
However, arguably the best tactical move that demonstrates how London Irish prepared well for this game was from this lineout. Here, the ball is thrown in by experienced Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy, but the aim here is not to form a rolling maul immediately after the ball comes down into the middle of the lineout, as is usually the case. Instead, Number 8 Albert Tuisue and flanker and captain Blair Cowan, both circled, break away from the rest of the players, making a run on the blindside together, as the blue arrows show. By doing so, they create a two-v-one situation against Willi Heinz, and the scrum-half is unable to stop them getting through, and it eventually leads to Scotland international Cowan’s second try of the game.
We can’t blame Gloucester for this, because it is simply down to excellent tactical awareness and preparation from the Exiles and their Director of Rugby, former Ireland coach Declan Kidney, using the spaces available to them on the pitch.
In conclusion, this was a really good game of rugby, enjoyable to watch as well as full of tactical points to pick out. Gloucester should be pleased with the way they played, as it was a big improvement from their performance last weekend, but they will also know that there are still big areas for them to work on, helping them to shut out opposing teams from getting into the spaces behind them and scoring easy tries. London Irish move into the top half of the table after this result, and will be delighted with the way they moved the ball around and exposed Gloucester’s weaknesses. However, on balance, the result was probably fair, and both teams can take positives to build on going forward.