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Eighty minutes with the Big Bad Wolf

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Bryn Palmer | 17:19 UK time, Sunday, 29 March 2009

Not for nothing is Dean Ryan known as the "Big Bad Wolf" of English rugby.

To witness the Gloucester head coach in action at close quarters is like observing a human time-bomb waiting to explode.

On Saturday at Coventry's Ricoh Arena, I found myself sat a couple of seats behind him as his side took on, and beat, star-studded Welsh region the Ospreys in the first EDF Energy Cup semi-final.

At times it was difficult to keep your eyes on the pitch, so riveting was the action on the touchline.

Gloucester coach Dean Ryan.jpg

Some managers and coaches like to convey the outward appearance of calm, even if inside the blood is probably boiling.

Ryan, however, is not one to keep his thoughts, or his emotions, to himself.

Lawrence Dallaglio described his former Wasps team-mate and early mentor as having "an aggressive, almost psychotic approach to the game" as a player.

The England legend was quick to add, however, that "his belligerent streak...tended to blind people to how bright he was about how the game should be played and how tactically astute he was".

It was not difficult to see what Dallaglio meant, on both counts, on Saturday.

Everyone within earshot, or with an earpiece, certainly received the benefit of his forthright wisdom. There was no doubt who was calling the shots.

His own players, as you'd expect, got plenty of advice. "Tins, you've got to go! Get across!" "Middle Lamby, middle!" "Bring it Morgs, bring it!" "Balsh! Corner!"

When it came to sending on replacements, Ryan was not of a mood to bide his time. "MJ! Go! Get On! Now!"

He was also not slow in venting his thoughts to the fourth official, moved to leave his seat and engage in conversation on several occasions throughout the match.

The first instance, after 24 minutes, saw Ryan almost apoplectic when referee Nigel Owens failed to spot a blatant trip by Ospreys flanker Marty Holah - subsequently highlighted on television replays - on his scrum-half Rory Lawson.

He was still shaking his head at the injustice of it all minutes later.

These days coaches can call up replays within seconds to verify whether a referee's decision was right or wrong.

Ryan had two video analysts with laptops, and a monitor of the BBC's coverage, in front of him as he sat alongside assistant coach Bryan Redpath and skills coach Denis Betts.

Moves and technical points are instantly dissected, with messages relayed to the players via a mini army of drinks carriers, who rush onto the field at every stoppage in play.

Ryan's face already had a healthy crimson glow - or glower - by the end of the first quarter, and it stayed that way for the rest of the match, despite his team leading throughout.

Amid the simmering fury however, Ryan revealed his sensitive side.

Being replaced with barely half an hour on the clock is a blow to any player's ego. But having unceremoniously removed young prop Alasdair Dickinson from the fray, and sent on the experienced Carlos Nieto in his place, Ryan was there to greet the crest-fallen Scot on the touchline with a consoling arm around the waist, explaining his decision.

Whether he would have been quite so sensitive towards Ryan Lamb, if the result had been different, is debatable.

With an hour gone, and Gloucester only leading 6-0, an attack deep into Ospreys territory offered hope of a decisive, match-clinching score.

With numbers outside him, Lamb opted for a cross-kick to the left flank, which he promptly dumped straight into touch.

At which point the time-bomb went off. Exploding with rage, Ryan stood up, hands outstretched, beseeching Lamb, or anyone else who cared to listen: "Hold on to it! Hold on to it!"

If Ryan might have settled for nothing less than Lamb's head on a platter at that moment, five minutes later his talented but erratic young fly-half played the role of executioner to perfection, calmly slotting over a clinical, and crucial, drop-goal for a 9-0 lead with 13 minutes left.

Ryan's fist was pumping. "Got it! Come on!" Minutes later he was up on the prowl again, barking out orders to his drinks carriers to get another message on.

In the midst of this controlled touchline mayhem, there was one priceless moment to savour.

During a lengthy pause in play 12 minutes into the second half, while his full-back Olly Morgan received treatment, Ryan left his seat to speak to replacement scrum-half Gareth Cooper, who was readying himself to enter the fray.

Two brave - or foolish - fans aged 10 or 11 trotted down the steps with programmes and pens in hand in pursuit of autographs. Not a wise move.

Whatever was said, they beat a hasty retreat, programmes unsigned. Ryan's sneering, curling upper lip suggested he was unimpressed, at best, by the timing of the request.

Ryan Lamb congratulates Iain Balshaw on his match-clincing late try against Ospreys .jpg

Another Lamb penalty with eight minutes left pushed the lead out to 12-0, and with five minutes left, Ryan went down to the touchline for the last knockings, just in time to see Iain Balshaw intercept a pass and race up the right touchline for the clinching try.

The game was up, victory in the bag. But still there was no change in the Ryan game-face, even while Gloucester players and officials celebrated wildly around him.

For the final two minutes, Ryan paced about, hands in pockets, shaking his head. Even as the Cherry-and-Whites' delirious fans started counted down the last 10 seconds on the clock - "Ten! Nine! Eight!" - he was still appealing, still gesticulating, still simmering.

In recent years Gloucester have lost five domestic cup semi-finals, two Guinness Premiership finals and one semi.

Here his team had just rammed the "bottlers" tag right down their critics' throats - for a few weeks at least - to lift the mounting pressure on players and coach alike.

The thought occurred: What must he be like when they're losing?


  • Comment number 1.

    Good observations Bryn. You should visit Kingholm some time - there's a Shedful of fans just like him!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Bryn - very interesting read.

    Help me out though - five lost semis... 1999 Cup, 2001 Heineken, 2002 Euro Challenge Cup, 2005 Cup and 2008 Premiership.

    Any more? I had the misfortune to be at all 5 of these.

    On the plus side, 1998 and 1999 League cup winners (a much undervalued competition by everyone outside Gloucester!!!), 2002 Zurich Championship winners, 2003 Powergen Cup winners and 2006 Euro Challenge Cup winners.

    So, it's not all pain being a Glaws fan!

  • Comment number 3.

    think he'll have a few tough decisions to make at close season but hope he makes the right ones. a few players will find themselves gone if we don't win edf and/or league.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Cherries_4ever;

    I do Glaws a disservice with my sloppy maths there. Apologies.

    By my reckoning the knock-out defeats this decade stack up as follows:
    2001 - HC semi to Leicester.
    2002 - PP(ECC) semi to Sale.
    2003 - Prem final to Wasps.
    2004 - Prem semi to Bath (plus HC quarter to Wasps).
    2005 - PG Cup semi to Bath.
    2007 - Prem final to Leicester.
    2008 - Prem semi to Leicester (plus HC quarter to Munster).

    So I guess that's actually only three domestic semis and two finals, plus a European semi and a couple of Heineken quarters!

    But as you rightly point out, you have won three trophies in that time.

    What chance adding to that this season now? Fancy your chances of a bit of revenge over Cardiff Blues in the EDF final?

  • Comment number 5.

    Sounds like business as usual for a Saturday afternoon with DR

  • Comment number 6.

    ...and oops. Not exaclty a good advert for Gloucster to be so comprehensively beaten in the final by the Blues (for the 3rd time this year I believe?)


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