It is perfectly possible that Gloucester will go all the way through 2012 without encountering opponents as dazed and confused as the current Wasps side, who were meant to provide the West Countrymen with their last opposition of 2011 but in reality provided nothing of the sort.
But this is no time to be negative, still less churlish. Yesterday's capacity crowd at Kingsholm saw something exciting – no, exhilarating – from a brilliant young back division full to overflowing with attacking potential, and if the coaches turn away from the likes of Freddie Burns and Henry Trinder having been given such a clear view of the road ahead, they will need certifying.
On a good day – a day when they are not being biffed around in midfield or being taken to the cleaners at close quarters – Gloucester are probably the most attractive footballing side in the country. Interestingly, those days tend to coincidence with the presence of the energetic Trinder at outside centre as opposed to, say, Mike Tindall. On this evidence, it is difficult to see how England's occasional captain and shamed World Cup liability can return to the first-choice starting combination. To reinstate him now would surely be an act of selectorial conservatism wholly at odds with the spirit of the moment.
There were lots of rumours surrounding Tindall's absence from the line-up for this game: some reports had him suffering from a virus, others that he was unavailable because of Christmas family commitments – the family in question being of the royal variety. As it turned out, he didn't play because he wasn't picked. "Mike has been ill," confirmed Bryan Redpath, the head coach, "but that's not the reason he wasn't in the side. I wanted to play Henry in this one and he certainly put in a performance. I'm not saying he will play every game now, but if Mike has to turn up for training and perform really well to keep Henry out, that'll be how it is."
Trinder must be regarded as a live candidate for inclusion in England's 32-man squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. One of his obvious advantages is that he is not Tindall, whose contribution to the World Cup campaign in New Zealand was pretty much entirely destructive, but he ticks any number of other boxes. He is quick, both across the ground and between the ears; he has a clever kicking game – a brilliant touch-finder off the outside of his left foot preceded a lovely little chip into the Wasps in-goal area that earned him a try; and he is not shy when it comes to the physical side of the game. Gloucester's chances of making things happen are multiplied to the power of plenty when he is wearing the No 13 shirt.
Burns, meanwhile, is a diamond. A rough diamond, admittedly, but no less valuable for that. Aided and abetted by two Pacific islanders in Akapusi Qera of Fiji and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu of Samoa, both of whom performed at something approaching Test pitch yesterday, the young outside-half set Gloucester on their six-try course with some eye-catching interventions early on. He also kicked beautifully from hand, both in terms of technique and timing, to leave Redpath signing his praises. "It's about control," the coach said. "Our tempo was good, but so was our structure." The man responsible for both tempo and structure was Burns.
Wasps also fielded their share of bright young academy things, but there were no Qeras or Fuimaono-Sapolus to nurse them through the contest. Almost scarily fast – the former European champions ended up with a back three of Richard Haughton, Christian Wade and Tom Varndell, which may have been the most rapid wide unit ever seen in the Premiership – they nevertheless found it impossible to put clear, blue water between themselves and their hosts. Even when Haughton, who makes most wings look pathetically pedestrian, found himself in space with the try-line beckoning, Burns zipped across field to cut him down with the tap-tackle from heaven.
There were no such issues when Gloucester were in possession, which was often. Their captain, Luke Narraway, was heavily involved in the initial scores, touching down from a driving maul and then freeing Jonny May with the kind of one-touch flock pass wholly beyond any of the back-rowers selected for World Cup duty during the autumn. But the pick of the tries was the last: a strong drive from Qera down the right, a wonderful flighted punt from Burns plucked from the air by Trinder, and a joyous finish from Olly Morgan. It might be stretching a point to suggest they will concoct scores like that every week – Saracens or Leicester will cramp their style far more effectively than Wasps – but at least these Cherry and Whites are up for the challenge? What is that line again? That's right. Out with the old, in with the new.
Scorers: Gloucester : Tries May 2, Morgan 2, Narraway, Trinder. Conversions Burns 3. Penalty Burns. Wasps: Try Daly. Penalty Robinson.
Gloucester O Morgan (C Sharples, 60); J May, H Trinder, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns (R Mills, 71), R Lawson (D Lewis, 66); N Wood (D Murphy, 66), S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 64), R Harden (D Chistolini, 66), P Buxton, J Hamilton, A Strokosch (B Deacon, 69), A Qera (M Cox, 71), L Narraway (capt).
Wasps H Southwell (T Varndell, 38); R Haughton, E Daly, R Flutey, C Wade; N Robinson, J Simpson (N Berry, 66); T Payne, R Webber (T Lindsay, 52), B Broster (J Castex, 64), E O'Donoghue, M Wentzel (capt), R Birkett, M Everard (J Harris, 64), J Burton (S Jones, 52).
Referee G Garner (London).