The LV=Cup kicks off tomorrow with all 16 teams in the competition playing in the first round of matches. Following Northampton’s success in 2010, the trophy acted as a springboard for the club’s push towards Heineken Cup glory, where they were turned over in dramatic fashion in the second half by Leinster. Some teams view the competition as a chance to give their squad players a run and develop young talent, others as an opportunity for crucial, foundation-building silverware.
Catching up with Gloucester captain Luke Narraway and winger Charlie Sharples, both players stressed how winning the competition last year was a fantastic experience. “Looking back those are great memories of winning the LV Cup last season” said Sharples. “It was my first trophy in a Gloucester shirt, and a great experience. We had a lot of young boys in that team, and it gives you a taste for a little bit more of the glory.”
Their form so far this season has been frustrating; wins at home against London Irish, Bath and Worcester have been levelled out by two narrow defeats away from to Northampton and Sale, as well as a thumping down at The Stoop against Harlequins. No one is more disappointed with that start than the players themselves. The Kingsholm factor however means that Gloucester should be favourites this weekend against Sale, after all, they haven’t lost at home since January 2010.
“Kicking off at home is a great start. We suffered last week from a lack on control in wet conditions up at Sale so we’re hoping to level the scores this weekend. Playing at Kingsholm gives us a real boost with the crowd but we want to take that kind of form away from home because we need to start playing like that all over the country to finish in the top four” said Narraway.
“It’s frustrating, and it’s something that we can’t quite put our finger on. We need to control the game better because doing that and getting into the right areas of the pitch gets you those results. After the loss down at Harlequins, where we simply didn’t turn up off the bus and faced a good Quins side playing very well, we promised that we would never lose with that kind of performance again.”
Captain Narraway returned before the game against London Irish two weeks ago had been out for 12 weeks following back surgery, and despite being touted on The Rugby Blog for inclusion in the Six Nations squad, his immediate focus is simply getting back to his best for Gloucester. “It feels great to be back. My fitness is getting there now after a couple of games and whilst I’m not overjoyed with how I’ve been performing and happy with it so far. It takes time and I want to be contributing more to the team in the coming weeks.”
England recognition is something within both player’s grasp, with Sharples winning his first cap against Wales in the Rugby World Cup warm-up matches last year. For Narraway, the aim is to get fit again. For Sharples, it’s to match the brilliant form he achieved for Gloucester last year. “I want to be back up where I was last season, and to push on from there. If was great to be around the England squad before the World Cup and to get a taste of that level of rugby against Wales at Twickenham. Watching the tournament unfold I never felt a sense that I should be out there playing, but it was frustrating as a supporter.”
The immediate task however this weekend is to get revenge on Sale for last weekend’s defeat, something that both players are hungry for. With The Shed behind them, you expect them to win.
by Ben Coles