Gloucester Q up to beat Leicester
May 17, 2008
Gloucester will fire their strike weapon at Guinness Premiership champions Leicester tomorrow - and there is every chance he could torpedo Tigers' Twickenham hopes.
The west country club were on the receiving end last season when Leicester's one-man wrecking crew Alesana Tuilagi scored two tries and terrorised their defence in a hopelessly one-sided Premiership final.
Gloucester are now on a payback mission, with their star Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera driving them relentlessly towards a first Premiership title.
Q, as he is known around Kingsholm, has given Gloucester an X-factor this term.
His astounding performance in the epic 8-6 victory over Bath last Saturday confirmed his status as currently the Premiership's most destructive back-row forward.
Qera's form has also earned him a nomination for Premiership player of the season, and Gloucester boss Dean Ryan knows he has discovered a precious gem.
The 24-year-old was on National League One club Pertemps Bees' books last year, and Ryan admitted: ''I don't think we ever had it mapped out he would be where he is now.
''We had some people playing alongside him (with the Bees) who said this lad could hit hard and carry ball well. Within a month of working with him here, we knew we hadn't taken a punt.
''When you see someone in training, you spend all day trying to iron out weaknesses, but he didn't have very many, and that's when you know it is going to flourish and progress.
''It has taken probably most of the season for people to pay attention to him, but he's been playing consistently well for us for some time.
''For a Fijian to drop in from only ever having played in Fiji and at Pertemps Bees, and fit into a structure of professional rugby in terms of things like defence and driving lineouts, is quite a big task.
''He has adapted to it really, really quickly.''
Many pundits feel Qera has already rocketed into the world-class bracket, but Ryan believes it is a difficult assessment to make in terms of the Test arena.
Ryan added: ''He plays his Test rugby with Fiji, which in the slightly different way they play the game means they will always be unstructured.
''I think if he was able to play Test rugby for one of the big three or four countries, you might get a better look at him.
''That's not a criticism of Fiji, they are always going to be what they are.
''You can't make comparisons with other world-class players from a club game. He would have to play in a Tri-Nations or Six Nations game to be able to look at that.
''What I know of him at Gloucester, and when compared with other international players we've had here, I think he is capable of being world class.
''He understands the game and structure, which is in some ways a contradiction to the stereotypical view of a Fijian rugby player.
''His development is not a surprise to us.''
Qera has recovered from the physical battering he took against Bath to feature in an unchanged line-up for Leicester's Kingsholm visit.
Centres Mike Tindall and Anthony Allen are also fully fit, with Gloucester going into battle as firm favourites to reach a third Premiership final in six seasons.
Tuilagi's return on the left-wing represents a solitary Leicester switch after they clinched a play-off spot by edging out Harlequins and Sale Sharks last weekend.
Tigers head coach Marcelo Loffreda said: ''Anything can happen because it is so tight in this competition.
''I trust my players and know they have the capacity to face the play-offs.
''I am not going to say we are going to win the title, but if they play like they did against Quins - with a lot of emotion and eliminate the mistakes they made - we have possibilities, we have a chance.''