Gloucester were hurting.

The clock was just about to hit the 60-minute mark and they had been playing with 14 men for the previous half hour. 

Sammy Arnold dived over for Munster’s fourth try and the scoreline read 29-3. Game over.

The hosts had been slow to get up and running in the early kick-off at Thomond Park back in October but once Danny Cipriani saw red for a high tackle the game had gone according to script.

The Cherry and Whites found themselves in a place many teams had been before, facing a rampant Munster, with little to play for except pride.

But what happened next exemplifies, in one former player's opinion, how Gloucester have changed under Johan Ackermann, who took over at the start of the 2017/18 season.

Gerbrandt Grobler got on the scoresheet against his old team

"We could have gone down by 40 or 50 at certain points in the past decade," former forward Simon Devereux tells RTÉ Sport.

"I'd call it a bit of a soft underbelly. When you are up against it, in the face of adversity, you suddenly find out where the chinks in the armour are."

Yes, Munster may have got the job done but, for a club shifting about in the slipstream of their nearest rivals and European champions, there was a chance to ‘do a Leinster’, not let up, unsheathe the sword.

Instead, the 14 men won the final quarter 19-7.

"That probably summed up the big improvement in the last year and a half that I’ve seen," adds Devereux, now an analyst on BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

"Even if things aren’t going well they’ll keep working to the end."

It hasn’t always been that way for the Kingsholm men over the last decade.

They struggled under Laurie Fisher, a former Munster coach, and finished ninth on two occasions and eighth on another during his tenure between 2014 and 2017.

Prior to that, a third-place finish in 2011 was the best they could muster since twice ending the regular season top of the pile, in 2007 and 2008.

"We were kicking a lot of ball away and finishing down the table so it wasn’t working," says lifelong fan Ken Burney, an eye-witness to the 2003 Miracle Match. 

"It wasn’t attractive and we were losing more games than we were winning.

"Our traditional way was nine or ten-man rugby with the forwards looking to dominate.

"Under Johan, it’s a work in progress and much more entertaining. When you’ve got players with pace you want to see them given the chance to run at the opposition."

Ackermann and Johann van Graan 

Ackermann - known as a tough, no-nonsense lock - earned 13 caps for South Africa and was head coach of the Lions in Super Rugby four years before making the move to England.

He was old school as a player but sensed that Gloucester needed a new approach.

"A change in the culture is the biggest thing he’s brought," says Devereux.

"He tries to play an open style and it took the squad a while to adjust to that.

"They were perhaps trying to run too much from deep to invoke his style and got themselves into trouble.

"He is a big man and has a big presence, and within a short time has made it very clear what he wants on the field

"With a lot of players coming in from overseas and around the country, he set up a lounge for the wives and children on matchdays.

"He looks at the bigger picture and that has generated a lot of respect from the squad. Their defensive mentality has improved.

"Now they work hard towards the end and he’s got time for everyone, he’ll speak to people, he’s balanced and measured.

"Laurie Fisher was my generation, old school, he was a ‘man up and get on with it’ type. Unfortunately, some players don’t react well to that so there was a different culture within the group.

"There is a lot of optimism around the city and the fans are excited and there’s a real good buzz around the place having suffered a decade of ups and downs."

Simon Devereux in action for Gloucester in 1998

Cipriani, capped 16 times for England but currently out of favour with Eddie Jones, has been central to the renewed Gloucester, who were beaten Challenge Cup finalists last season and currently lie fourth in the Premiership. 

The out-half returns from a pectoral injury to face Munster this evening but the hosts are on the back of a two-game losing streak, down to "their skill levels dropping".  

Prior to that they were within striking distance of second-place Saracens.

Devereux says the talk around town was that perhaps the Munster game would be seen in a different light.

They are bottom on Pool 2 on eight points and face an away trip to Castres after this so Ackermann could have taken stock, appraised the situation and rested players with a bigger picture in mind.

However, the losses to Leicester and Sale, in particular, hurt Ackermann and the visit of the two-time champions has handed the South African a chance to make amends.

Sale stunned Gloucester at Kingsholm

"We lost to Sale in front a full house that was a real sickener for the crowd," he says.

"The Munster match is a high-profile game and a big statement for the club as to where we are.

"If we can get a victory over Munster in Europe in front of a full house, live on TV, it’s a massive incentive and a kick on for the squad.

"We have to go out and repay them for what happened against Sale. He said we let the fans down. It hurt the squad.

"Having lost the two games it just makes this game more important beyond whether we get out of the group or not.

"Arguably you might have said if we had won the last two games we’d have been pressing for second place and thought about this game differently.

"I watched Gloucester as a kid and played for them, you were always going to get a hard game, especially at Kingsholm.

"They had lost sight of that identity over the last 15 years at times but they’ve started to get that grunt back."

Asked what he feels Gloucester's chances are tonight, Kingsholm regular Burney responds quickly. 


Munster beware. 

Follow Gloucester v Munster (KO 7.45pm) via the live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the News Now App, or listen live on RTÉ 2fm's Game On, with commentary from Michael Corcoran and Donal Lenihan.