Rugby Union: Gloucester's rising son

David Llewellyn finds Rob Fidler is happy to take on the family business
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HOMESICKNESS has hit Gloucester hard this season. Their relatively young and inexperienced side have been fine at fortress Kingsholm, where the great and the good have come some spectacular croppers, but when they go away it is a different matter.

On present form they look as if they would struggle at Cheltenham: their one away victory came against bottom-of-the-table Bristol, whereas at home they have seen off Leicester, North-ampton, the champions Wasps and Saracens.

Their only home defeat was, by a quirk of fate, against Harlequins, whom they visit, for what will be Zinzan Brooke's first match in charge of the London club, today. Their inability to come to terms with life outside the hotbed that is Kingsholm is puzzling everyone, including the players. And for their England A lock Rob Fidler the Cherry and Whites' form is turning into an even bigger burden than being the son of the Gloucester legend, John Fidler.

Fidler junior, though, thinks he may have put a finger on the problem. "We tend to make mistakes when we are away from home that we would not make at Kingsholm," the 23-year- old said. "Our discipline drops when we are away and our concentration slips."

There could also be another reason. Kingsholm is a cauldron of rugby passion and tradition and home to the famous Shed - the hard core of knowledgeable, demanding, but fiercely loyal Gloucester fans - which has driven opposition sides to distraction with a stream of withering comments, but which has also driven their own Cherry and Whites to heights of achievement that have defied belief.

"The Shed," said Fidler solemnly, "is very special. There are so many people willing you on it gives you that extra yard of pace in attack and that added bit of determination in defence. The Shed is an extension of the family at Gloucester - you have the players, the coaching staff and then the Shed. It's like having a lot of big brothers."

It is also a source of the most fervent support in the game, but no matter how many Shed 'eads travel with their beloved team, they cannot seem to recreate the unique atmosphere that is Kingsholm elsewhere. So it looks as if the players are on their own. Fidler, who has also represented England at Under-21, Colts and England Schools 18 Group, insists they can win away. "At London Irish last week we dogged it out for 75 minutes. It was just that lack of discipline in the last five when we came unstuck. But we took a big step nearer solving the problem. A lot of it is mental."

He has already had to overcome the mental barrier of following in the footsteps of his famous father, the former Gloucester and England lock. But there is much of the old man in the youngster. He has the Fidler elbow - as essential in the line-out now as it was when his father played. He is possessed of a fine pair of hands, sensitive and sure enough to pick up a ball inches from the turf, then to deliver it, unerringly, to a supporting team-mate. He also has the speed and athleticism to reach the breakdown in the first place. He has, too, the Fidler build: 6ft 5in driven by 18st 7lb of similar muscular aggression.

With his background, Fidler's destiny was decided from the moment he emerged into the world. "Rugby was inbred into me," he said. "It was the only option open to me. I remember that as soon as I was old enough I would throw a rugby ball to Dad in the garden. He used to take me to training sessions, then to matches. It was part of my life even then."

The comparisons were inevitable and Fidler admitted: "People expect a lot from you because of whose son you are. I had to live under his mantle a little, although lately I feel I've put my own stamp on things." He certainly has. Now he needs to help the rest of the team overcome their collective problem.