Just picture the scene, a brisk but bright Monday evening, attire is smart casual and you're wandering down the picturesque streets of Cheltenham to find your local boozer, bustling once again, with laughter and the distinct clank of glass against table, you take a moment to breathe it all in. The boozy smell of the unsanitary air lingering out from the bar, the somehow still sticky carpet causing every slight movement to sound like clunky dentures rattling away in the jaws of a Shar Pei, and there it is... The solitary pint of room temperature Guinness waiting patiently for you in front of the biggest TV in the house... Just to watch your local side get absolute battered on day one of the new normal. How did this car crash occur?
From moment one you could tell Bristol meant business, clearly going into the game with the mindset of putting on a real show for their supporters. They ran it from absolutely everywhere, with Uren and Sheedy almost downright refusing to put boot to ball. Big carries from Luatua, Hughes and Attwood kept the Gloucester pack back peddling until they were forced into silly penalties. Sheedy slotted the first two until a reckless challenge saw Alemanno get red carded for an attempted spear tackle on Luatua. This really pushed Bristol into playing heavily attacking Rugby. Phase after phase Gloucester held out until Sinckler broke through to score... But wait, it was disallowed. Then Piutau broke through in a largely solo effort just to get the ball knocked out of his hands over the try line; Gloucester put on a clinic in disrupting the ball when already over your own try line, not something I imagine they train for regularly. At one point Gloucester were down to 13 men in the first half, throwing everything they had into defending the big Bristol ball carriers; it was gutsy, but energy sapping. Ludlow in particular really led from the front, putting in a bunch of first up tackles and making dominant collisions despite the clear momentum in Bristol's favour. Gloucester did struggle out wide though, with Carreras getting bounced on a couple of occasions. Of course, by the second half, Gloucester were absolutely out on their feet and Bristol went on to blow them away.
Andy Uren, Best 9 in the League?
We've said it on this site before, is Uren the best 9 in the league? Some would argue that he's not even the best 9 at Bristol, but he epitomises consistency of performance. He plays week in, week out, usually 70+ minutes, puts in break after break, has become a clinical try scorer, kicks well and makes all the right decisions; he's a massive handful for any opposition. He might not have the creativity of Dan Robson, the abrasiveness of De Klerk or the hoof of Ben Spencer, but he's on the pitch 25% longer, doesn't disappear due to international breaks, constantly finds himself on the scoreboard and has become a necessary cog in this Bristol machine. His partnership with Sheedy has made them one of the most fluid half back pairings in the league. In this game, naturally, he excelled with that front foot ball he was given. His service was electric and his deft pops to oncoming strike runners caused Gloucester all sorts of issues around the breakdown; absolutely electric.
Malins... On the Wing?
Utility players have become a necessary evil in the modern game due to the severity and likelihood of major injuries occurring around the pitch. What defines a utility player is being a jack of all trades, master of none. But what if you are master of all trades? Kind of feels that way with Malins at the moment. You could stick him anywhere in the backs (barring 9) and he wouldn't just do a job for you, he would be a gamechanger. He has this perfect blend of size, agility, pace and match intelligence that makes him a trifle option to deal with. At 15, his impressive aerial game, counterattacking ability and huge hoof makes him international quality. Out on the Wing, his hot step, identification of soft shoulders and weirdly surprising acceleration means he always beats the first man. At Fly Half, his soft hands, ability to manipulate space and moments of magic make him one of the most frightening threats in the league. His first try very much felt like a solo effort built out of frustration, but time and time again he beat his opposite number despite Carreras being the more accomplished Winger. What he does offer, is another option in the midfield to divert the play; he's from that school of Chris Ashton dynamism, pop up between the centres, offer support lines and become a poacher around the pitch... A roaming Winger effectively.
I hate, hate, hate ref bashing, especially in this current climate. Ref's are constantly scrutinised to the nth degree, and unfortunately are rarely backed by their compatriots in the RFU, leaving them out to dry with the general public. However, it might be time to finally creep over to the dark side and say the refereeing performance was close to a travesty. EIGHT DISALLOWED TRIES! EIGHT!? Sometimes you have to consider that the whole point of sport is entertainment, and there is nothing entertaining about watching 30 minutes of TMO footage. Also some of the disallowed tries were incredibly harsh; Sinckler's first score never found air with the player and always looked in control; I'm sure if you slow down every score to a frame a second, it would look ever so slightly suspicious. Also what happened with those scrums? Penalty after penalty, yellow cards and just an absolute mess; scrums shouldn't be this boring. It killed the game off relatively quickly; when the balls at the back of the scrum not moving, just force the 9 to play it, don't reset or penalise that far after the collision. I'm not just saying this because I'm a Wasps fan, and Wasps fans historically have a lot of beef with CMK, but this performance was an absolute howler and in a more important match, there could have been real implications to his over-indulgence of the whistle.
Andy Uren - We've gushed about him enough at this point, he's had another blinder here.
Steven Luatua - Carried with real purpose all game, the guy's got a huge gas tank too and causes problems at every breakdown.
Nathan Hughes - Did the ugly stuff well and made a couple of key breaks around the fringes, Gloucester could hardly compete with his size.
Kyle Sinckler - Destroyed Gloucester at the scrum and should have had a try notched on the scoreboard.
Kyle Moyle - I'm literally putting him here for the most dastardly defensive play I've seen in some time.
Willi Heinz - Unusual for a Scrum Half to be anonymous, but unfortunately, that he was.
Matías Alemanno - Silly red card challenge put Gloucester in the doghouse from the open 15 minutes, ruined the game.
Val Rapava-Ruskin - Eaten at scrum time and eventually yellow carded, had a mare.