Brian Ashton, the England attack coach, was here to cast his canny eye over the young bucks in the Gloucester threequarter line. They are not strangers. "I know all these boys from my time at the National Academy," Ashton said. He would have been joined at Kingsholm by John Wells, but once England's forwards coach learnt that James Forrester, the Gloucester No 8, had withdrawn because of a knee injury, he thought his time would be better spent elsewhere. Forrester damaged a knee in the defeat to Leinster in Dublin and will have a scan tomorrow. His chances of playing against New Zealand are not good.
Anthony Allen, on the other hand, made Ashton's day. The 20-year-old centre, who is likely to make the England 22, was by far the sharpest Gloucester back and crowned an excellent display with two tries, both well taken, the second exceptionally so. The only problem is that it was an exercise in futility.
As it happened, the most eye-catching performance came from a player who, in appearance, looks like a has-been. Rupeni Caucaunibuca is truly a wonder to behold. Caucau, as the abbreviated Fijian is fondly referred to, was utterly devastating and goodness only knows how effective he would be if he was fully fit. A sensation in the last World Cup, the left wing created havoc every time he touched the ball and had a huge hand in three of Agen's four tries.
What is all the more remarkable is that Caucau looks like a cross between a prop from the old amateur days and a beer barrel. Yet he has the acceleration of a cheetah and the strength of a Chieftain tank. No wonder the All Blacks tried to move heaven and earth to get him to switch his colours to New Zealand. For once, the International Rugby Board took decisive action on behalf of the have-nots and ruled that he should continue to play for Fiji, the country of his birth, even if it is Agen who benefit on a weekly basis. Well, not quite.
Caucau is not averse to going AWOL when he should be training, and last summer Agen had no idea where he was. Finally they announced that the wing, probably the most explosive runner since Jonah Lomu was in his prime, had been suffering from typhoid.
"You often wonder," mused Ashton beforehand, "how well these French teams travel." In the event Agen, who hadn't won a single game this season away from home, travelled in style and this was a famous victory, complete with a bonus point for scoring four tries. For a while even the Shed was struck dumb, and the main cause was Caucau. Had he been taken out of the equation Gloucester would probably have won. As it is their European adventure looks over almost before it has begun. They have one point from two games compared to Agen's nine, the French club having beaten Edinburgh 19-17.
Allen aside, this was not a good day for Gloucester's tiros. Olly Morgan's hopes of being named the England full-back suffered a blow early in the second half when he went off with a shoulder injury. A similar problem had already kept him on the sidelines. The promising Jack Adams was also replaced, yet the crowd here were bemused - they expected to see Ryan Lamb substituted but the stand-off went the distance despite having a wretched time of it. The Lamb was off.
He wasn't alone. The forwards were strangely subdued for a game they had to win and some of the kicking out of hand was wayward and pointless. Lamb had kicked a couple of penalties when Caucau, with his first touch in the 10th minute, appeared in midfield and attracted so much attention the backs outside him were able to create a clever try for Arnaud Mignardi. Nine minutes later, Caucau brought a gasp from the audience with a breathtaking break that ended in a try for Pieter van Niekerk. The first of Allen's tries made it 15-14 to the French side at half-time but a 14-point burst in nine minutes after the break turned Kingsholm into something resembling a morgue.
Jerome Miquel exploited a weak defence to link with Peio Som, who sent in Thomas Soucaze, and then Caucau shot through the middle like Ben Johnson on speed to lay on a try for Conrad Stoltz.
At least Gloucester went out with a bang. Allen sliced through for his second try in the 66th minute and when Olivier Azam got a trademark try five minutes later Gloucester were only three points behind and the Heineken was still on tap. But Agen kept their nerve and Francois Gelez responded with a drop goal.
"Every time Caucau got the ball we didn't have a clue what was going to happen," lamented Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach. He was in good company.
Gloucester: O Morgan (W Walker, 50); J Bailey, J Adams (R Keil, 56), A Allen, I Balshaw; R Lamb, P Richards (R Lawson, 70); C Califano (P Collazo, 53), M Davies (O Azam, 53), C Nieto, J Pendlebury, M Bortolami (capt; A Eustace, 65), P Buxton, L Narraway, J Boer (A Balding, 39).
Agen: P Elhorga; D Vainqueur, M Ahotaeiloa (C Stoltz, 47), A Mignardi, R Caucaunibuca; J Miquel (F Gelez, 63), N Morlaes (capt); P van Niekerk (E Guinazu, 60), A Tiatia (L Cabarry, 65), A Galasso, A Badenhorst, S Socol (W Stoltz, 47), P Som, T Soucaze, C Yukes (F Culine, 69).
Referee: M Changleng (Scotland).Reuse content