Gloucester Rugby look set for a much-needed injury boost ahead of the festive period with star trio Ruan Ackermann, Zach Mercer and Adam Hastings set to return to action.
The Cherry and Whites have struggled as the season has progressed, winning their first two Premiership games off the back of an unbeaten run in the Premiership Rugby Cup only to lose their last five league outings to drop them down to ninth in the 10-team table.
While every club suffers with injuries at some stage, the gods have not been kind to underpressure Gloucester director of rugby George Skivington who has seen five of his best players sidelined through the early stages of the campaign. While the absence of Scottish fly-half Adam Hastings to a knee injury has hit the backline, it is the loss of power and grunt in the pack that has really hurt the West Country club, with South African backrower Ackermann out with a neck injury since facing the Barbarians in a friendly back in September, England international Zach Mercer sidelined after surgery on an ankle injury he suffered against Saracens on October 27 and Fijian backrower Albery Tuisue absent with a calf injury since November 3. Star loosehead prop Val Rapava-Ruskin, who was named in the Premiership Dream Team last season, has also had surgery on a knee issue, and unlike the other four players is set for a more lengthy recovery.
While is it unlikely any of the quartet will feature this weekend away at Bristol Bears, who are equally struggling for form with an identical record in the league this season, Skvington said there are ‘positive shoots’ on the injury front. Speaking in his midweek press conference, Skivington revealed: “Our injured players, barring Val, will drip back in over the next couple of weeks and that will give us a real boost.
“We have a good chunk of money [from our salary cap] off the field at the moment but it will come back. We have been unlucky and lost it all in positions we have invested in, that is tough going.”
Following Saturday’s Premiership clash at Ashton Gate, attention turns to the European Challenge Cup with Gloucester facing Georgian side the Black Lions before hosting Clermont at Kingsholm. How Skivington will approach the second-tier club competition is unclear with a trio of tasty Premiership fixtures to follow over the Christmas period with Northampton at home on December 23, Harlequins at Twickenham on December 30 and then Bath away on January 7.
Providing more details on the timeline of his returning players, Skivington explained: “They are all close, it is a matter of weeks rather than any longer so hopefully we will see them all in the next few weeks if if all goes to plan. There are some positive shoots in those areas which is exciting for us.
“Ruan has shown some real positive signs in the last week or two, he is probably the most likely to get across the line first. Hasto is not there yet but he is out of the brace now and walking around and has started to be a bit more vocal in meetings which is always a good sign when your ten starts talking and getting back into that role.
“Zach is doing everything he can. He has bought an oxygen chamber for his house and there are positive signs. It is out of Zach’s own pocket and his own commitment to getting fit.
Skivington was full of praise for Mercer who he said has not missed a meeting since being injured, saying: “He has definitely shown his level of commitment and professionalism over the last five weeks in how he is approaching his rehab. He is really motivated, he is a very smart rugby guy and he wants to be the best. It has not surprised me, but it is still nice to see when someone you have invested in has that level of commitment and is that hungry to get back.”