Gloucester close in on Champions Cup

Date published: May 24 2015

Gloucester will host Bordeaux Bègles next Sunday in the final Champions Cup qualifier after they defeated Connacht 40-32 after extra-time on Sunday.

It was a wonderful contest in the West Country as, despite the importance of the result, both sides played expansive rugby to thrill the supporters.

David Humphreys' outfit would come out on top though, with two late tries in extra-time seeing off the Irish province, who were unlucky losers.

It was a perfect start for the Cherry and Whites as number eight Ross Moriarty reached out after a driving maul to dot over the line wide out. Greig Laidlaw sent over the difficult extras from the touchline and in the Gloucester sunshine, the Shed was delighted with their team's form.

Connacht recovered superbly though and would reply through an opportunistic try, with good rush defence forcing ball out of a Gloucester hand which led to John Cooney showing good pace to run over untouched. Jack Carty landed the simple conversion to go with his earlier penalty.

At 7-10 up, the Irishmen had their tails up in an open qualifier, but would be pegged back on nineteen minutes as Laidlaw landed three points.

The frantic style continued with Gloucester this time showing their running game, as a lovely line from James Hook allowed Charlie Sharples to finish off in the corner. This time Laidlaw was off-target but there was barely time to reflect as another try, this time Connacht's, arrived.

Carty was that next scorer as he snuck in under the posts, and the visitors held the slender advantage at 15-17 with half-an-hour on the clock.

One negative of the spectacle was the scrum and eventually referee Romain Poite lost his patience, with John Afoa and Denis Buckley sin-binned. Neither's absence for ten minutes affected the scoreboard though as the interval arrived with Connacht going in in front after a fantastic 40 minutes.

Laidlaw nudged Gloucester back in front two minutes into the second-half but the opening wasn't as thrilling as the first as it remained 18-17 until the final quarter of the Kingsholm clash. Laidlaw did, however, have a shot to change that but missed after flanker Eoghan Masterson was carded.

Their numerical disadvantage did not affect the Irish though as a brilliant cross kick from Carty found Matt Healy on the left wing, who went over to push his side back in front. Carty was off-target with his conversion attempt so it was a four-point lead with eighteen minutes left.

Gloucester came mighty close to wiping that gap when the busy Jonny May almost scored in the corner but for a fantastic cover tackle from full-back Tiernan O'Halloran, who knocked the England international into touch with a brave tackle. Players on both sides were now looking fatigued.

With Gloucester having to chance their arm in the closing stages, Connacht were smart and pounced at the breakdown to win a penalty which Carty landed. 

It looked like being the game for the visitors but drama would follow as from a contentious penalty, centre Bill Meakes sliced through a static Connacht defence to score at the death. With Laidlaw's extras, the game was going to extra-time.

Chances in the two ten-minute period were always going to be few and far between and it took the last seconds of the first spell for it to arrive, with Hook nailing a 54 metre penalty to cue roars from the Kingsholm faithful. Gloucester led 28-25.

Connacht weren't done there though as Healy grabbed his brace three minutes after the break for a converted try that pushed the Irish four points in front.

However, the Cherry and Whites struck with a knockout double punch at the death as a pushover try from Darren Dawidiuk and a run-in from wing May handing Gloucester a date with Bordeaux in Worcester.

The scorers:

For Gloucester:
Tries: Moriarty, Sharples, Meakes, Dawidiuk, May
Con: Laidlaw 4
Pen: Laidlaw 2, Hook

For Connacht:
Tries: Cooney, Carty, Healy 2
Con: Carty 3
Pen: Carty 2

Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Jonny May, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Henry Purdy, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Jacob Rowan, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Rob Cook.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 George Naoupu, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 James Connolly, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Shane O'Leary.

Referee: Romain Poite