MARK Atkinson was grateful to display his talents in a second-half try-fest against Yorkshire Carnegie – despite his legs struggling to last the lung-busting encounter.
Following a punishing pre-season schedule the centre, who joined from Bedford Blues in the summer, was one of only two Cherry and Whites to play the entire 80 minutes.
And following a quiet first-half, in which the backs had limited chances, Atkinson burst into life following the break.
Gloucester scored seven tries as they added 43 points to the scoreboard with Atkinson at the fore.
The 6ft 5ins, 16 stone centre displayed an impressive understanding with James Hook, with a number of unbelievable deft offloads causing chaos in the Carnegie defence.
Atkinson, 24, said: “It was good to be able to express myself in the second half, even though playing back to back halves was tough.
“I felt a little bit sorry for the backs going off in the first half. They were all a bit frustrated that they didn’t get the chance to show what they are about.
“We got the ball in our hands a little bit more in the second half, which could have been the case in the first half if the ball came from lineouts and if the scrums went our way.
“There are still a lot of areas we are not happy with, too many holes in defence, too many tries scored against us and too many breaks made.
“But it clicked at a certain point, there was a 20 minute period where everything we threw went to hand and we scored some lovely tries.”
Some of Atkinson’s offloads were reminiscent of New Zealand dual-code star Sonny Bill Williams (inset), whom Nigel Davies compared the former England Under-20s international too.
But Atkinson insists there can be no comparisons to the All Black and paid tribute to the influence the likes of Hook and Greig Laidlaw had in the second half.
He said: “You can’t compare to him. When the ball goes your way and everyone is running off you, you can listen to calls and not look to see where they are.
“There were a few that I threw, put my head down and just hoped they went to hand. I can throw them up but you have to give credit to the boys running those lines, who are catching them and making them look good.
“When you have those people, especially someone like James Hook coming on and pulling the strings like he did, it makes everything outside a lot easier.
“I like to think we’re similar players, although he’s a much better version - we both like to attack the line and he’s easy to read because he is such a natural footballer.
“He does his job so well that you can just get on with your job and react to the half breaks he constantly makes.
“It wasn’t a bad bench combination at half-back! To bring on 150 caps or whatever they have between them (107) is amazing.
“No disrespect to the two young lads who started (Dan Robson and Billy Burns) and are fantastic, but you just saw a fresh pack and in the end it was a really hard job for Carnegie.”
Atkinson was thrilled to run out at Castle Grim and is crossing his fingers for another opportunity in Saturday’s clash with Munster but he is well aware of the competition he faces.
Playing for the same number 12 jersey as the club captain is not an ideal situation but with Billy Twelvetrees (inset) also the incumbent of the same England shirt, Atkinson should have plenty of opportunities.
And he is aiming to make the most of every opportunity in the new look Gloucester set-up.
Atkinson said: “Running in front of the Shed was something else, I have never experienced anything like that in rugby, but the boys laugh and say that’s only a third full. I can’t wait to experience it when it’s full.
“I’m under no illusions of taking anyone’s place - I’m just aiming to play as much as possible.
“I knew the situation when I spoke to Gloucester. It’s the best situation to be in, hopefully Billy retains his England position and fingers crossed there will be chances for me to step in.”
Atkinson reckons he can fulfil a similar role to Twelvetrees in the Gloucester back-line and with head Laurie Fisher in just his second week at Hartpury, both players will have to familiarise themselves with a new style.
But already there is remarkable clarity in the Australians approach and Atkinson believes Gloucester can finally begin to challenge following some lean years.
He added: “Considering how big a club it is you always expect more but this is one of the first years where people are really saying this is a good squad. There’s a really impressive coaching staff and squad.
“Laurie has really stamped his authority, we know exactly what we’re doing and you can’t ask for anymore after just four or five sessions.
“As soon as he starts to speak everyone listens, you come across these men in rugby, nobody questions anything, there’s no grey area, he knows exactly what he wants and he portrays it really well to the squad.
“That’s the difference between a good coach and a really good coach and Nick Walshe has also done a fantastic job to give the backs some structure. More and more detail will be added ahead of Munster.”