GLOUCESTER forwards coach Carl Hogg is expecting an arm wrestle with Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday, backing his troops to prevail if they play like they did against Exeter Chiefs, writes Paul Smith.
The Cherry and Whites found themselves 16-12 down as the game entered the final quarter of an hour but Freddie Burns kicked two penalties to turn it around for a 18-16 Aviva Premiership win.
December games at Kingsholm and Welford Road alike are invariably won up front, and Hogg knows his young front row will have to repeat their impressive performance in the scrum if they are going to win their final game of 2012 against the likes of Dan Cole and Marcos Ayerza.
The Gloucester pack took a hit early in the week with the news that second-row Alex Brown was forced to retire through injury.
In a touching moment before the game, Brown who is in his testimonial year at Kingsholm, thanked the sold-out crowd for their support – and Hogg insists that while the team will look to bring through youngsters to replace the line-out specialist on the field, in the changing room Brown’s departure will be a motivating factor for the squad.
“When you have a player the nature of Alex – who gives 100 per cent in everything he does – everyone feels for him,” said Hogg. “Hopefully, we’ll have a successful season with Alex in mind – but this was about beating a good Exeter side.
“The defining characteristic of our side this year is that we’ve got real resilience – and that last 20 minutes, when we’re two points down, we needed that in spadefuls.
“Our scrum’s gone very well all season and it turned up against Exeter.
“The game at Welford Road will be a set-piece game. They’ve got a very good forward pack and we need to go there and front up.
“We've got about eight or nine players who can step up in the front-row. It means we can rest and rotate players and then when there’s a challenge like Welford Road, they’ve got enough petrol in the tank.”
Exeter coach Rob Baxter was also quick to look ahead – with the Chiefs heading home for games against Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints at Sandy Park.
Coming into Kingsholm on an unbeaten eight-game run in all competitions, Exeter looked to have struck the decisive blow with a second-half Simon Alcott try – and Baxter insists their failure to capitalise on that score will go down as an opportunity lost.
In a game that could have swung either way, Exeter allowed momentum to slip away through four penalties at the scrum and a run of penalties in the tackle following their try.
Baxter will look for an improvement from his side in the next two games – against the teams now sitting one place above and below them in the table – that could have serious play-off implications come the end of the year.
“We’ve come up a bit short in a very tough game,” said Baxter.
“I’m massively pleased with the physical endeavour, and disappointed that we didn’t wrap up the game when we had the defining moment of the game with the try.
“Scrums tend to be a battle and you have to look at them over the course of the game, but if our loose-head drops his bind it’s a soft penalty – and an easy decision for the official to make.
“It killed our momentum a little bit in the first half – but I’m not going to run away from it, Gloucester are an in-form side, playing well and you’re going to be under pressure until the end of the game.
“One game never defines a season, and to come away from here with a losing bonus point is still a very positive result for us.”
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