Twel­ve­trees set­tles Glouces­ter thriller

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby -

Glouces­ter sur­vived a fran­tic fin­ish to end Con­nacht’s un­beaten run in the Euro­pean Chal­lenge Cup with a 33-28 quar­ter-final win at the Sports­ground.

Re­place­ment Billy Twel­ve­trees’ 77th-minute penalty proved to be the final score of an eight-try thriller, as last year’s run­ners-up earnt a home semi­fi­nal against Aviva Premier­ship ri­vals New­cas­tle Fal­cons next month.

Tries from James Han­son, Tom Mar­shall and man-of-the-match Henry Trinder had the Cherry and Whites 1710 up at half-time, with re­turn­ing Grand Slam win­ners Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki touch­ing down for Con­nacht. The hosts twice got back to within two points thanks to sec­ond­half tries from Niyi Ade­olokun and Matt Healy, but John Afoa’s 55th-minute score on his 100th club ap­pear­ance – cou­pled with the place-kick­ing of Owen Williams (10 points) and Twel­ve­trees – had Glouces­ter out of reach.

Jo­han Ack­er­mann, the Glouces­ter head coach, ad­mit­ted to re­lief at his side’s show­ing. “It’s a mixed feel­ing per­for­mance-wise, but I’m proud of the guys for the way they re­sponded when it was needed,” he said.

Glouces­ter will host Premier­ship ri­vals New­cas­tle at King­sholm in their semi-final in three weeks’ time, and Ack­er­mann said his charges would need to be pre­pared for a stern test.

“We can’t ask for a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity. We get to play at home in front of our own peo­ple and our own town. It’s not go­ing to be easy, we know that. You have to be good on the day and be ready to play to your stan­dards,” he added.

Con­nacht fell behind in the third minute when Quinn Roux stole Han­son’s line-out throw but the tap-down bounced nicely for the Glouces­ter hooker, who gath­ered and cut in­side Healy for a 5-0 lead.

Jack Carty’s invit­ing off­load then sent his half-back part­ner Marmion nip­ping over to the right of the posts, with Carty un­able to con­vert in a tricky wind. Glouces­ter’s fifth penalty con­ces­sion in 15 min­utes saw No 8 Ben Mor­gan sin-binned for a high tackle, and a ter­rific team move soon led to Con­nacht’s sec­ond try.

Hooker Tom McCart­ney was in­volved twice, firstly via De­nis Buck­ley’s tip-on pass and then pop­ping up to col­lect Carty’s off­load and send Aki pow­er­ing over to make it 10-5. The wind foiled Carty’s con­ver­sion at­tempt and it was a sim­i­lar case for fly-half Williams’s kick af­ter Glouces­ter had re­leased winger Mar­shall for the left cor­ner. Welsh­man Williams’s long pass sup­plied a su­perb as­sist.

The Cherry and Whites got on top in a cru­cial pe­riod be­fore the break. Ed Slater had a try ruled out for a for­ward pass, but cen­tre Trinder’s quick feet took him around Roux for the try.

Con­nacht pressed in the sec­ond half and Glouces­ter ap­peared to be in trou­ble with flanker Lewis Lud­low sin­binned for a shoul­der charge on Marmion but they showed im­pres­sive com­po­sure, with Twel­ve­trees knock­ing over the late kick to seal the win.

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