Dean Ryan is nobody's idea of a fool – and "nobody" himself would be wise to hesitate before informing the former back-rower of his opinion. The Gloucester coach appreciates that should the Cherry and Whites fail to pick up the required points in Biarritz tonight, and so limp out of the Heineken Cup at the group stages, his position will come under increased scrutiny.
"I'm in a pressure job," admitted Ryan, who not so very long ago was being touted to take the reins at the Guinness Premiership champions, Wasps. "I find it a bit bizarre that I keep being asked how I feel about my job. My job is a pressurised position. It is to lead this rugby club through premier tournaments. It's not something I'm surprised at, that there's pressure when things don't go our way."
It is fair to say that things have not gone Gloucester's way so far in this most premier of all premier tournaments, although, in truth, their misery has been largely self-inflicted. In their home defeat against Cardiff Blues on Sunday they let slip a handy interval advantage and no amount of injuries would silence the Kingsholm frustration. The captain, Mike Tindall, and the full-back Olly Morgan return in the Basque town this evening, while Ryan Lamb, the fly-half, pays for his errant boot by being jettisoned from the XXII. Willie Walker takes the pivotal role and the Kiwi's creative influence could be all important.
Ryan declared that it would be "suicide" for his men to run out at the Parc des Sports Aguilera chasing a bonus-point victory, but that is exactly what they will need to do if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals. Even if Gloucester do secure the four tries against an outfit that, it must be said, sound infinitely more intimidating on paper than they actually are on grass, they will still not be assured of progression.
The permutations of which two teams will grab the best runners-up placings to take them through with the six group winners are large enough in number to make Mr Vernon Pool blush. But Gloucester must be seen to be putting up a fight. Just for Ryan's sake. At the start of the season he confessed that should the club once again fail to win any silverware – despite topping the Guinness Premiership table in the last two years, the last trophy they lifted was the European Challenge Cup in 2005 – then heads could well roll. Ryan may or may not have been contemplating his own cranium doing the repetitive 360s.
Meanwhile, Bath received a modicum of good news in the midst of the Matt Stevens scandal that continues to overshadow their winner-takes-all match with Toulouse on Sunday. While Stevens will not be seen on a rugby field for an awfully long time, Toulouse's international outside-half David Skrela will have to wait a little while longer himself as he attempts to reach full fitness after a thigh injury.
Two other players who will not be involved this weekend are the Leinster lock Malcolm O'Kelly and the Cardiff Blues wing Tom James. Both received two-week bans yesterday, the former for stamping all over Wasps' Phil Vickery, the latter for butting Gloucester's Olivier Azam. The pair will, however, be available for the Six Nations.Reuse content