Rugby Union: Gloucester rely on French beef for a big future

Gloucester 11 Harlequins 27
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Gloucester 11 Harlequins 27

The tide of professionalism is finally lapping at the doors of Gloucester's other cathedral, Kingsholm, the heart of the rugby-loving city. Having lined up a wealthy backer, who is said to be prepared to plough in excess of pounds 2m for a 75 per cent stake in the club, Gloucester are on the brink of making their first big signing.

Christophe Lamaison, a member of France's Grand Slam winning side, is believed to be the first of a fistful of international imports signed up by Richard Hill, their director of rugby. Lamaison, 26, who has won five caps with France at centre and fly-half, has been tempted to the West Country in a deal worth a reported pounds 250,000 over two years.

Lamaison, who was born in Dax but plays for Brive, will certainly add some punch to the inexperienced Gloucester midfield, which was ruthlessly exposed by another Frenchman. Thierry Lacroix scored 17 of Harlequins points to keep alive their hopes of European rugby next season. The centre's versatility and match-winning capabilities should help fulfil Hill's ambition to take Gloucester into Europe the season after next.

Hill began the season determined to rely on home-grown players. But the former Bath and England scrum-half, who has worked something close to a miracle in guaranteeing First Division rugby for the club next season, is no Canute. To succeed Hill realises experience and flair has to be introduced, so that the youngsters he has nurtured have an opportunity to learn on the hoof.

He has identified the threequarter line as an area that needs beefing up.

There is not much wrong with the pack, Gloucestershire-born in the main and imbued with the rugged traditions of the old style Cherry and Whites coupled with the pacier, all-round qualities demanded by the modern game, as demonstrated by the outstanding flanker Nathan Carter and the talented No 8 Simon Devereux on Saturday. Sadly the forwards efforts were largely wasted by carelessness and inexperience in the backs.

Hill, who has four years of his contract to run, said: "My priority is to ensure we have a stronger squad for next season. In all, I hope to make four, possibly five, signings during the next few weeks. They will all be internationals.

"It will be a massive boost for the club, we will certainly start to be able to compete. We need some quality players who do something out of the ordinary and win a game for you. We struggle for that here. I would hope that, with the signings we make, we will be challenging for a top four place next season."

The signing of Lamaison, who was banned for 30 days by a Five Nations disciplinary hearing last month after being cited for his shoulder charge on Craig Chalmers which left the Scotland fly-half concussed, is expected later this week, sparking an influx of three French-based players.

Philippe Saint-Andre, the former France captain who has won more than 60 caps, is expected to follow Lamaison in a similar big money deal and Hill hinted that he has lined up a couple more backs possibly from the Southern Hemisphere, although not from New Zealand.

In all, Hill has spoken to almost a dozen players, among them Brive's giant Polish-born back-row forward Gregori Kacala, a talented handball and basketball player. But Kacala, from Gdansk, who has won 27 caps with Poland, has already rebuffed advances from Cardiff and Newcastle.

Gloucester: Try Benton; Penalties Mapletoft 2. Harlequins: Tries Williams, Lacroix, O'Leary; Conversions Lacroix 3; Penalties Lacroix 2.

Gloucester: C Catling; A Lumsden, C Emmerson, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening (J Hawker, h-t), A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims, A Stanley, S Devereux, N Carter.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, P Mensah (J Keyter, 70), W Carling, J Williams; T Lacroix, N Walshe; J Leonard, K Wood, A Ozdemir (L Benezech, h-t), G O Llewellyn, L Gross, R Jenkins (G Allison, h-t), B Davison, L Cabannes.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Cleveland).