Gloucester looking to end frustration in Challenge Cup semi-final against La Rochelle

Gloucester 
Gloucester have endured a tricky season on and off the pitch Credit: getty images

No club is as closely associated with the feeling of frustration as Gloucester. It is word full-back Tom Marshall employs to sum up their campaign so far, but that could equally be applied to any season from the past decade. 

There is still hope. On Saturday they travel to La Rochelle, the unlikely leaders of the Top 14, in a Challenge Cup semi-final while they lie in eighth in the Premiership, just two points off sixth with two games to play. A European trophy or Champions Cup qualification would transform the context of a season which even in a Cherry & White context has been particularly trying.

This week the proposed takeover by Mohed Altrad collapsed after Premiership Rugby voted to restrict his investment to 20 per cent citing his ownership of French club Montpellier as a conflict of interest. Prior to that head coach Lawrie Fisher resigned last month after Gloucester threw away a lead against Harlequins, a recurring theme, while rumours have swirled about the future of director of rugby David Humphreys.

Since Fisher’s departure, Gloucester have won three of their last four matches and Marshall, who scored two tries in the 39-30 victory against Sale last week, believes the adversity has brought the squad closer together. “It has been a messy season,” Marshall said. “We have had a few off-field issues with the departure of Lawrie. It can be tough at times. Rumours spread like wildfire. We have a lot of discussions on just focusing on us. We don’t really care what people outside of our group say about us and in the last month or so and we have started playing our best rugby.

“The season in one word? Frustrating. Really frustrating. We have shown glimpses of what we can achieve throughout the season but we have struggled to put in 80 minute performances. That comes down to consistency. It is extremely frustrating but the boys have stuck together the whole time. Some defeats have been really tough to take but every week the boys front up again next week in training.”

Tom Marshall scored two tries in the victory over Sale Credit: Getty Images

Gloucester will need plenty of that spirit in Brittany, where La Rochelle are unbeaten this season. Even by French standards, they boast a monstrous pack and last week experimented by moving Uini Atonio, their 24-stone tighthead prop, to the second row. 

For Gloucester, Lions bolter Ross Moriarty starts in the back row while Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw returns to the bench. Any attempt at engaging La Rochelle in an arm wrestle is doomed to fail so Marshall, who is New Zealand born but English qualified through a grandfather from Newcastle, says they must look to move their gargantuan forwards around as much as possible.

“We have to go away from their strengths which we see as being their set piece, their ball-carrying and their offload game,” Marshall said. “We want to get a bit of tempo in our game and keep the ball in play. We will look to move their big boys around because they are fairly immobile. 

“It is a massive few weeks for the club. This week is a semi-final against the form team in Europe at their home stadium. We will go there as severe underdogs. We know that, but it is a great challenge and we want to put some pride in the Gloucester jersey.”