Gloucester survive red scare for glory

Date published: May 2 2015

Gloucester clung on to lift their second Challenge Cup title in nine years after a gripping 19-13 win over Edinburgh at The Stoop.

Europe's secondary competition hasn't always been cherished but this was a treat of a final, one which may even prove to be more entertaining than Saturday's bigger contest over the road at Twickenham.

Gloucester triumphed in this exact fixture on the same ground in 2006, requiring extra time to defeat Premiership rivals London Irish, but there was drama of a different kind this time around after centre Bill Meakes was shown a straight red card on 63 minutes.

Greig Laidlaw had underlined that despite his seven seasons with Edinburgh his head and heart would be in the right place and he backed it up with a faultless display of goal-kicking, as Gloucester kept the opposition at arm's length on the scoreboard for much of the contest.

Coming into this final on a quest to become the first Scottish side to win a European title, Edinburgh battled bravely throughout but too often were opened up in defence by Gloucester's number of dangerous runners. Their own late surge gave their supporters real hope but in the end they fell agonisingly short.

Early penalties from Scotland team-mates Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Laidlaw opened the scoring to give their respective sets of fans something to savour.

Getting the rapid Jonny May into the game was always going to be a priority for the Cherry and Whites and his first real involvement created their first try, a carving run off his wing opening up the Scottish side's defence.

May has been criticised often this season for his distribution and awareness, but he timed the inside ball to Billy Twelvetrees perfectly as the England centre had the pace to go under the posts.

The Premiership side looked increasingly dangerous in attack with Laidlaw and James Hook directing traffic, but twice Edinburgh escaped through timely penalties at either the scrum or breakdown.

That ability to escape was sorely tested once again by the electrifying May, whose absurd pace had Edinburgh in tatters once more until Cornell du Preez's remarkable tap tackle prevented a second try.

Anton Bresler's yellow card presented Edinburgh with another challenge as Gloucester were denied next by the TMO after attempting to drive over from close range.

Surviving the latest onslaught on their try line would have needed a miracle from Edinburgh after a series of close-range scrums with only seven men. But somehow they created just that, as John Afoa grumbled his way back towards his half wondering how his side were still only seven points ahead.

Hidalgo-Clyne chipped away at the Gloucester lead with a second penalty but Laidlaw responded instantly to restore order for Gloucester and for some much-needed points after such an unrewarding spell previously in attack.

The Edinburgh number nine couldn't find the posts in reply with a third attempt as Gloucester led by seven at the break.

Laidlaw's boot however remained perfect with two quick penalties at the start of the second half to open up a comfortable 19-6 scoreline. 

Edinburgh's dip in composure was summed by consecutive restarts going out on the full and they desperately needed something to cling on to. Tim Visser, who will be seeing a lot more of The Stoop next season with Harlequins, did his best with a chip down the touchline but the bounce of the ball wasn't kind.

Ross Moriarty did though hand the opposition a lifeline after he was yellow carded for a reckless knee to the head at the ruck and suddenly Edinburgh were alive again, setting up camp near Gloucester's line in hunt of a crucial score.

Requiring the own escape act the Cherry and Whites scrum delivered it with a penalty, but then a straight red card for Meakes through the contest wide open as Gloucester momentarily went down to 13. Awarded by referee Jérôme Garcès for a high tackle on a man without the ball, the English fans weren't exactly in agreement.

Gloucester then couldn't hold out as Ross Ford crashed over and suddenly Edinburgh were right back in the hunt trailing 19-13 with extra men on the pitch.

Working with the momentum but against the clock Edinburgh remained calm with the ball in hand in testing Gloucester's defence to the limit, but it was the defence that held, as Gloucester's pack wound down the clock for the trophy and also a shot at playing in next year's Champions Cup through the play-offs.

The scorers:

For Edinburgh:
Try: Ford
Con: Hidalgo-Clyne
Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 2

Yellow Card: Bresler

For Gloucester:

Try: Twelvetrees

Con: Laidlaw

Pens: Laidlaw 4

Yellow Card: Moriarty

Red Card: Meakes

Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Phil Burleigh, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Mike Coman (c), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 John Andress, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Tom Brown.

Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Jonny May, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Henry Purdy; 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Steve McColl.

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere, Mathieu Raynal
TMO: Eric Gauzins

by Ben Coles