PHIL Vickery fears the gulf is widening between Gloucester and European rugby’s elite – home and abroad.
The England World Cup winner (pictured) was a studio pundit during Sunday’s Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals and was blown away by the quality on offer.
He reckons Saracens’ emphatic 46-6 triumph over perennial heavyweights Clermont Auvergne was one of the finest performances from an English side on the European stage.
And following a disappointing season, which will almost certainly see the Cherry and Whites fail to qualify for the new Rugby Champions Cup, he insists his former club must learn the lessons to close the gap.
He said: “Gloucester’s season has been indifferent to say the least and when you look at the top end of the game and the matches from the weekend with the likes of Toulon, Munster, Wasps, Bath, Northampton, Harlequins you realise a lot of clubs are moving on at a rate of knots.
“And that Saracens game was one of the best performances I have ever seen from an English team in Europe.
“They were absolutely outstanding and made Clermont, a very good team who are always competing at the top, look ordinary. It was reminiscent of Wasps of old that work-rate, desire, passion, effort that went in.
“We have to be careful that we don’t get too down in the dumps about it because there’s a lot of quality players at Gloucester, with good experience and a sprinkling of youth but it just hasn’t happened this season.
“The signings they have made will make a big difference next year but it’s just disappointing this season has had to be written off.
“The headlines before the season were about the top four, competing in Europe and if anything what happened could not have been any further from that,
“They have consistently been off the pace but the frustrating thing is at times they have shown they can compete with the best.”
Vickery was part of a panel that sat together last week to discuss and redefine the cultures and meaning of playing for Gloucester following the disappointing season.
Far too often the Cherry and Whites have been criticised for their lifeless performances and while Vickery insists there has been no lack of intent, he knows it must be channelled in the right way,
He said: “They need to show what Gloucester Rugby is about because at the moment I don’t think we know.
“We had a sit down and chat last week which was interesting, there’s no doubting anyone in the club wants to be successful it’s just a case of all pulling in the same direction.
“It’s about understanding the meaning of the club, it’s heritage and bringing that on board and using it as a Launchpad to achieve.
“It was great to sit down with Nigel, some players and a couple of other people – it was a really interesting discussion but we all know we can’t keep talking about it.
“Gloucester’s a special place to play, people are very passionate and it’s about how you harness that for success. There hasn’t been a lack of effort from anyone, it’s about channelling it in the right way and being positive.”
While Vickery was recruited to help address the cultural issues at the club, his former England and Gloucester teammate Trevor Woodman succeeded Tony Windo as scrum coach at the beginning of last month.
And he insists Gloucester must get the forward foundations right if they are to have any chance of improving on a tumultuous campaign and closing the game on England’s elite.
He added: “The reality is rugby starts with a pack of forwards and ends with your outside backs and goal-kickers. Consistently the pack has underperformed which is disappointing.
They have struggled for a large majority of the year, they’ve made headways with Trevor Woodman coming in but it’s not a five minute fix.
“The signings are quality, they will get a good pre-season and maybe there will be a slight change in mind set.
“The likes of John Afoa will have a big impact. It’s about how you utiise him now but also as a tool to help teach and bring through the likes of Shaun Knight.”
Vickery was talking at the launch of Raging Bull Beer in partnership with Bespoke Brewing Co. in Mitcheldean.