A dramatic game at Kingsholm Stadium saw Connacht defeated 40 – 32 by hosts Gloucester whose 80th minute try levelled the game and bought them twenty minutes of extra time where, backed by their vocal home crowd, they scored two tries to Connacht’s one to grind out the win.

Ross Moriarty’s early score was cancelled out by John Cooney before Charlie Sharples raced home. But Man of the Match Jack Carty was on-hand to claim the advantage at the conclusion of a thrilling first-half. Matt Healy looked to have scored the match winner, but Bill Meakes’ converted try on the 80th minute sent the playoff to extra time.

Connacht had the advantage again in extra time with Healy’s second, but Darren Dawiduik was shunted over and the lead changed hands once more. And the tie was finally settled when Johnny May raced over to send his side into a Sixways playoff with Bordeaux on Sunday, May 31.

Moriarty got Gloucester on the board early on when he was driven over the try-line in the second minute. James Hook’s chip forced Connacht to hastily clear for a five-metre lineout. Lock Tom Savage took the ball and smuggled it to Moriarty, who was shunted over the line. Greig Laidlaw added the extras from out-wide for an early 7-0 lead.

But the early shock sparked Connacht into life. Jack Carty narrowed the gap with a penalty before they pounced to take advantage of a Gloucester error in attack. Bill Meakes threw a risky pass to Charlie Sharples who was closed down and forced to knock-on. John Muldoon collected and swiftly swept the ball up and out to Cooney who had a free run to the line from 50 metres out, Carty converted to put the tie in Connacht’s favour.

Laidlaw levelled with a penalty before they cut Connacht open to score after 27 minutes. Hook latched onto Meakes’ pass to burst clear before finding the onrushing Sharples who raced in at the corner. But Connacht marched back once more through Carty. Fionn Carr was fed by Carty, who took a return pass to sneak over under the uprights. He converted his own try to give the visitors a two-point advantage.

Half time: Gloucester 15 – 17 Connacht

Laidlaw retook the lead with a penalty after the interval before Eoghan Masterson was sin-binned for failing to roll away. But despite the one-man deficit, Pat Lam’s men refused to lie down and Carty’s well time cross-field kick was right into the hands of Connacht back of the year Healy, who waltzed in to score.

Carty’s boot looked to have sealed the triumph in the 79th minute after Gloucester took a botched quick lineout and held onto the ball at a ruck. The game looked to be done and dusted  at 18 – 22 but there was enough time for David Humphreys side to storm upfield and score through Meakes with the game’s final play. The TMO was consulted to check for obstruction but referee Romain Poite allowed the try and Laidlaw converted to send the 25 – 25 tie to extra-time.

Extra time

Replacement back Hook gave Gloucester the advantage in the first period of extra-time with a penalty kick from the half-way line. But Connacht came back stronger again and scored through Healy after Henshaw broke through the defence early in the second period. Carty, 100% from the kicking tee today, converted once again but Gloucester were not finished.

When replacement hoooker Dave Heffernan was yellow-carded for a ruck infringement, the hosts put the ball into the corner. Dawiduik was driven over to give Gloucester a 33-32 lead, Laidlaw having missed the conversion. Just one point ahead with three minutes remaining, Gloucester put an end to Connacht’s hopes of Champions Cup rugby when May broke through for the ninth and final try of the game. Laidlaw converted and Gloucester held on to secure a Sixways playoff with Bordeaux Begles next Sunday.

Full time: Gloucester 40 – 32 Connacht

 

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