Kingsholm would have been rocking under the Friday night lights in normal circumstances as underdogs Gloucester Rugby battled to stay in touch with legitimate title contenders La Rochelle.
In the end the French side had too much power, guile and experience for this brave and evolving Cherry and Whites squad, running out 16-27 winners to knock the hosts out the Heineken Champions.
But the likes of 20-year-old fly-half George Barton appeared to visibly grow in stature during the course of ‘the biggest game of his career.’
When Lloyd Evans returns from his ankle injury in the not too distant future the number 10 jersey will not be waiting vacant for him as the England U20s man has currently got a firm grip.
One thing is for certain, Barton has got the temperament to handle a big game, landing all four of his attempted kicks to extend his 100 percent kicking record to 20 successful attempts since breaking into the first team. Kicking stats like that are music to the ears of long suffering Gloucester fans who have been disappointed with a succession of average goal kickers costing them games.
He also has audacious nerve, missing a penalty kick to touch by trying to go for the very corner for the second week running, only to be equally ambitious with a successful similar effort moments later.
Post match a proud George Skivington, the Gloucester head coach, said the likes of Barton and scrum half Charlie Chapman, along with his flanker skipper Lewis Ludlow should all be on the radar of England head coach Eddie Jones who was matching on from the main grandstand.
Skivington said: “I am sure George is on his radar but I wouldn’t think he isn in the current line of fire right now.
“I think Lewis Ludlow should be on the radar, I know he is, but I think he has justified getting some action sooner rather than later. I think Ruan Ackermann actually has been putting his hand up recently, we have got a few boys. You have got to have a look at players like Charlie Chapman coming through.
“It was a massive learning for George tonight, that was the biggest game he has played in for sure.
“I thought he was composed and he is tough, he got whacked a couple of times and he got back up, he kicked his goals and there are always going to be learnings.
“I thought it was another good game for him and the kid just impresses me every week.
“It will be a big learning for him, he is disappointed right now, but he has got a huge future at this club.”
Heading into the 2020/21 campaign Barton would not have expected to play as much senior rugby as he has, but with Danny Cipriani leaving in December and Evans picking up a serious ankle injury, the Longlevens RFC product has been thrust into the limelight and taken his moment.
Skivington continued: “We were short at fly-half earlier in the year but I think these last couple of months have been gold for George, I think he is a genuine first team player now.
“We have got Lloyd coming back soon and Adam Hastings is coming next year so we are starting to build depth and strength in each position which is only good for everyone.”
Skivington was not the only one impressed with Barton, with his counterpart at La Rochelle, former Munster and Irish international fly-half Ronan O’Gara full of praise.
He said: “Barton tonight was very impressive but we intended to go at him and it didn’t come off.
“He is only going to get better.”
La Rochelle scored twice before the break with full back Dillyn Leyds finishing a free flowing offloading move before winger Arthur Retiere was given the benefit of the doubt to touch down in the corner despite the outstand Chris Harris trying to drag him into touch.
Gloucester came back with a try from number eight Ackermann from a shortrange pick and go after Barton had broken the line from a Mark Atkinson offload.
Barton’s conversion made it 13-15 at the break.
In the end indiscipline and accuracy hurt the Cherry and Whites with La Rochelle landing four successful penalties after the break, two for Ihaia West and two for replacement Jules Plisson to pull away and secure the victory.
Gloucester must not concentrate on their league form, where they sit 11th, to try and salvage a place in next season’s Champions Cup, rather than the lower tier Challenge Cup.
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Gloucester Rugby: 15. Santiago Carreras, 14.Charlie Sharples, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Mark Atkinson, 11. Jonny May, 10. George Barton, 9. Willi Heinz, 1. Val Rapava Ruskin , 2. Henry Walker, 3. Fraser Balmain, 4. Ed Slater, 5. Matías Alemanno, 6. Jordy Reid, 7. Lewis Ludlow (c), 8. Ruan Ackermann.
Replacements: 16. Santi Socino, 17. Alex Seville, 18. Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19. Alex Craig, 20. Freddie Clarke, 21. Jack Clement, 22. Charlie Chapman, 23. Billy Twelvetrees
La Rochelle: 15. Dillyn Leyds, 14. Arthur Retiere, 13. Raymond Rhule, 12. Levani Botia, 11. Jules Favre, 10. Ihaia West, 9. Tawera Kerr Barlow, 1. Dany Priso, 2. Facundo Bosch, 3. Arthur Joly, 4. Romain Sazy (c), 5. Will Skelton, 6. Wiaan Liebenberg, 7. Kevin Gourdon, 8. Victor Vito.
Replacements : 16. Pierre Bourgarit, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Uini Atonio, 19. Thomas Lavault, 20. Grégory Alldritt, 21. Thomas Berjon, 22. Jules Plisson, 23. Geoffrey Doumayrou
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England) and Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)