GLOUCESTER must be consistent if they are to emerge from the dogfight at the bottom of the Premiership, believes optimistic boss Nigel Davies.
After a gritty but vital 12-6 home win over Worcester before Christmas, the Cherry and Whites will remain unchanged for tomorrow’s clash with London Irish at the Madejski Stadium (2pm).
Director of rugby Davies had kept his faith in the side that overcame Dean Ryan’s men in difficult conditions last Sunday.
This means fly-half Freddie Burns, who has publicly admitted he has struggled to find form as off-field negotiations about his future rage on, remains on the bench.
Captain Billy Twelvetrees, who kicked Gloucester to victory with four penalties in the Worcester clash, will wear the 10 jersey.
Gloucester’s derby victory over Worcester saw the Cherry and Whites climb to ninth in the Aviva Premiership table, while Irish sit two places below them with just two wins to their name this term.
Irish last enjoyed a league win in October, but Davies remains wary of the threat individual players pose.
Davies said: “This team was easy to pick.
“We are now looking for consistency in everything we do, and that will come through in selection as well.
“In the first third of the season, we tried to build that strength and depth in the squad by fielding different players – we’ve done that, but it hasn’t helped us in terms of our results.
“I think tomorrow is going to be tough and we have to get our basics right again – our set piece was very good against Worcester and it’s going to have to be very good again.
“We can take a lot of confidence from the way we performed against Worcester and we can take that form in the set piece into the Irish game.
“When we do that we know we will have a lot more control of the game. London Irish will be desperate for a result, there is no doubt about that.
“It’s still a bit of a dogfight at the bottom of the league and everyone wants to pull away. It’s a huge game for us and as I’ve said before, every game is a cup final now.
“They have a lot of good individual players, they do make errors, but they are a capable of breaking teams.
“They have great ball carriers, and they’ve got some very exciting backs as well, and we have to be right on our guard.”
Burns did not make an appearance from the bench in the Worcester clash.
In his absence, Davies hailed the influence of “natural leader” Billy Twelvetrees, who gave a masterful performance at fly-half.
Davies admitted he did not want to put Burns in the “firing line” of a fierce home derby like that, and added that the Irish tie may lend itself more favourably to the 23-year-old playmaker.
The Welshman said : “It is difficult to predict at this stage.
“We have taken him out of the firing line for a minute, just so he can refocus and reset himself.
“And I’m sure when he does come back in he’ll be on full form again. He is training very well at the moment. He is pretty relaxed in terms of selection because he realises why and he can understand the reasons.
“To have somebody of his quality on the bench ready to come on to the field will be very important.
“I think Billy is very consistent, he’s a natural leader, and the players look to him.
“Fly-halves are very important and very influential in teams. At any stage in the game, players will look to the 10 to ask ‘what are we doing, where are we going?’
“Billy has a real composure and a quiet confidence about him and I think that really helps the side.”
The Worcester result was Gloucester’s second home victory.
The match was hardly a classic, but a win was all that was required.
And the boss is not asking for free-scoring rugby tomorrow either.
For Davies, the victories, no matter how ugly, provide a foundation from which the squad can continue to build.
Davies added: “We’d definitely take a 12-6 scoreline again.
“Part of the problem this year is that we haven’t been pragmatic enough at times this season.
“If you go back to the start of last season, we were very pragmatic in how we approached games and we built of those foundations.
“And we need to go back to that to a certain extent. We’ve still got a lot of quality if we can take advantage of opportunities.
“The fact is statistically, most tries these days are scored by kick returns and turnovers, so we’re well set and well prepared to take advantage of any chances we may have.
“What we want to do now is build on that, move forward little by little and back up that win with some more, and that is important for us in terms of our league position. I felt we were in control of the Worcester game in large parts, and that was important.
“But when a team is under pressure, to get that result, you have to build from very basic foundations, which is what we did. I think we were deserved winners.”
Mike Tindall and Henry Trinder will maintain their partnership at centre, with Charlie Sharples and Jonny May on the wing, and Rob Cook at fullback.
In the pack, Tongan powerhouse tighthead prop Sila Puafisi makes his second start for the Cherry and Whites, joining long-serving loosehead Nick Wood and hooker Darren Dawidiuk in the front row.
The only changes to the matchday squad are on the bench; second row Tom Hicks and flanker Akapusi Qera have been replaced by Will James and Gareth Evans.
Samoan International back row forward Ofisi Treviranus will start for Irish, and director of rugby Brian Smith expects a “fierce battle with Gloucester in every department.”
Gloucester Rugby: Rob Cook; Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, Mike Tindall, Jonny May; Billy Twelvetrees (capt), Jimmy Cowan; Nick Wood, Darren Dawidiuk, Sila Puafisi; Elliott Stooke, James Hudson; Matt Cox, Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Yann Thomas, Shaun Knight, Will James, Gareth Evans, Dan Robson, Freddie Burns, Martyn Thomas.