Reality cheque can wait as Gloucester dream for a day
Sunday 06 April 2003
They may not to have a pot to pee in, but Gloucester do have the Powergen Cup to fill with champagne, scrumpy or whatever nectar of their choosing. Northampton arrived at headquarters with two captains, one for each handle of the trophy, but it ended up in the safe hands of Kingsholm's oldest scrummager in town, Andy Deacon.
At 37 years old, Deacon was a record-breaking elder at the cathedral of the game, and after being sent up to receive the cup, he was joined by team-mates young enough not to remember, or even be on the planet for, Gloucester's last victory in England's most venerable knockout competition. Wet behind the ears they may be, but James Forrester, Marcel Garvey and James Simpson-Daniel knew the way to the goal-line all right, four times over, and Northampton crumbled chasing shadows in the springtime sun.
Forrester had come to Twickenham muttering worrisome words of concern for his clubmates. The top players would be okay, he said – and goodness knows he is surely in that category now after a rip-roaring back-row performance – but those of, say, a middling nature are living season to season: a taped-hand-to- bloodied-mouth existence. The Premiership leaders are in line to complete the double if they survive through to the new play-off final back here on the last day of May, yet are laying off a third of their backroom staff' and reportedly withholding bonuses from their players.
Only in sport.
Tom Walkinshaw, 99 per cent stakeholder and 100 per cent subject of the Gloucester rumour factory, afforded a smile at the final whistle, even if he may be able to afford little else after the collapse of his motor-racing concern. The Scot has insisted the two operations were mutually exclusive. The vista before him was full of familiar chequered flags, though these were in the cherry-red and white of Gloucester's fantastic supporters – 25,000 or thereabouts. It must have been Twickenham's noisiest day, even if the stadium was suffering from truck-driver's syndrome, with half of it getting sunburnt.
Walkinshaw has grown strangely less voluble since relinquishing the chair of Premier Rugby last year, and running his fast cars into a pit-lane. Instead the Scot's mouthpiece has been the doughty director of rugby, Nigel Melville, who wrote Gloucester's "message" in yesterday's programme, whereas Northampton's owner, Keith Barwell, penned the Saints'. Melville only left Wasps when he tired of the state of flux, ditto his assistant Dean Ryan, from Bristol. They have forged a wonderful team in the flight from frying pan to fire.
Undeniably the neutral was happy for Gloucester at the end; extraordinary that they were castigated for their dull, 10-man approach after sharing the cup with Moseley back in 1982. Forrester, who was a year old then, Simpson-Daniel and Garvey still at the twinkling-eye stage, were prepared yesterday to run from anywhere, and it was thrilling to watch. Certainly you had to get by without one of the other senses, with the massed West Country hordes ratcheting up the racket from all sides accordingly. Walkinshaw and the Premier clubs tried to kill off the cup a few seasons ago, since when around 220,000 people have watched the last three finals. Get the picture, chaps?
Beforehand, one Gloucester fan of the big-day-out variety eyed up a Richmond riverside pub, and promised: "I'll be in there later for three pints of that Pimm's stuff." The drinks were on him last night, and, who knows, with the odd nip from Walkinshaw thrown in too.
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