Dean Ryan was in one of his "I told you so" moods after Agen, who never win away from home, won at Kingsholm, of all places in Christendom. When Ryan is doing the telling, it is generally wise to listen.
"The expectation on this group of players is ahead of where they are in reality," he said. "All I've heard for the last three or four weeks is hype, and while I believe we've done a pretty good job keeping people's feet on the ground, others have done a pretty good job in creating the myth that now surrounds them. The day I read headlines to this effect, rather than the stuff I've been reading since the start of the season, will be the day common sense returns."
Gloucester's director of rugby did not expect to lose on Saturday. Not exactly. But there had been a nasty little itch at the back of his mind that left him wondering what damage the Frenchmen might cause if they decided to turn up in mind and spirit, as well as in body. Agen turned up all right, and they brought Rupeni Caucaunibuca, one of the great non-turners-up in rugby history, with them. The extraordinary Fijian wing looked like a modern-day Two-Ton Tony Galento, with spare flesh bulging from a deeply unsympathetic body-hugging shirt, but whenever he touched the ball, the home side's world fell apart.
He started the move that led to Arnaud Mignardi's sublime opening try after 10 minutes, played a breathtaking hand in constructing another for Pieter van Niekerk nine minutes later and made a horrible mess of poor Ryan Lamb in conjuring a last, decisive score for Conrad Stoltz midway through the third quarter. The long and short of it? With the honourable exception of the centre Anthony Allen, who enjoyed another highly productive afternoon, Gloucester's talk-of-the-town youngsters had neither the strength nor the know-how to break Caucaunibuca's stride, let alone knock him over. Even when they attacked him in numbers, the Pacific islander managed to surround them all on his own.
Not that this was a one-man extravaganza, for there were considerable contributions from the half-backs, Jérome Miquel and Nicolas Morlaes, and a striking demonstration of the No 8's art from the outstanding Thomas Soucaze, who scored the one try that owed nothing to the multisyllabled maestro out wide. But there was only one, barely pronounceable name on the lips of the Gloucester players after the final whistle, and while Ryan will want his charges to remember the things Caucaunibuca did to them, he will be equally keen to ensure they do not develop a complex about it. Suddenly, the psychology of the situation at Kingsholm is delicate indeed.
"If we were not staying in these games, I'd think I was working with the wrong group of players," Ryan said, thinking of the defeat by Leinster in Dublin seven days previously, as well as more immediate events. "I believe I'm working with the right group and it's up to everyone here to support them. This is such a young side, a side lacking in physicality, a side with a lot to learn. We're missing a lot of experience - Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel haven't played for some time; Andy Hazell and James Forrester were missing today; Jake Boer, a player brought in to set the example, didn't get to the end of the first half. You need people like these at Heineken Cup level. That's the reality"
The fact that Allen kept the West Countrymen in the hunt with two tries, the second of which needed an awful lot of scoring, said much about the 20-year-old midfielder's maturity. But two other products of the Kingsholm crèche, Lamb and Jack Adams, had rough afternoons, while Olly Morgan suffered more problems with his troublesome shoulder. It is one thing to make a splash in the professional game. It is quite another to keep swimming when a man the size of a whale is coming after you.
Gloucester: Tries Allen 2, Azam; Conversion Walker; Penalties Lamb 3. Agen: Tries Mignardi, Van Niekerk, Soucaze, Stoltz; Conversions Miquel 3; Penalty Miquel; Drop goal Gelez.
Gloucester: O Morgan (W Walker, 49); J Bailey, J Adams (R Keil, 56), A Allen, I Balshaw; R Lamb, P Richards (R Lawson, 69); C Califano (P Collazo, 52), M Davies (O Azam, 52), C Nieto, J Pendlebury, M Bortolami (capt; A Eustace, 65), P Buxton, J Boer (A Balding, 39), L Narraway.
Agen: P Elhorga; D Vainqueur, M Ahotaeiloa (C Stoltz, 46), A Mignardi, R Caucaunibuca; J Miquel (F Gelez, 62), N Morlaes (capt); P van Niekerk (E Guinazu, 59), A Tiatia (L Cabarry, 64), A Galasso, A Badenhorst, S Socol (W Stolz, 46), P Som, C Yukes (F Culine 31-40 & 68), T Soucaze.
Referee: M Changleng (Scotland).Reuse content