Twelvetrees settles Gloucester thriller
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.