James Hook, the forgotten man of Welsh rugby, did all that one man could do to set Perpignan on the road to European success last night. But Gloucester, desperately needing a winning injection to their season, returned to Heineken Cup rugby after a year's absence by snatching the verdict in the final five minutes.
They joined Edinburgh at the head of Pool Six by capitalising on Perpignan's lack of discipline. Billy Twelvetrees, at fly-half in the absence of Freddie Burns, kicked 17 points and led the line well enough to give Jonny May the chance to score the crucial try at the same time as Perpignan were reduced to 14 when Lifeimi Mafi was sent off for a dangerous tackle.
It spelled the end of the French club's hopes after Hook had scored in every way possible. It does not mean that Gloucester are out of the domestic wood yet but their pack held up better than expected.
The withdrawal before the kick-off of Burns, through illness, would not have done Gloucester's already-fragile confidence any good. Nor did the resulting switch of Twelvetrees from centre help the great national debate over England's best midfield but Gloucester's immediate concerns were increased when Perpignan scored within the first minute. Camille Lopez pushed through a grub-kick behind a lineout, brilliantly tipped inside by the wing Wandile Mjekevu, and Hook provided the finish and the conversion.
But Gloucester settled to their work and two penalties by Twelvetrees reduced the deficit to a single point. Hook responded in kind and was unlucky when he hit a delightful angle behind a ruck but was called back for inadvertent obstruction.
But Gloucester were unfortunate not to finish the first half on level terms. Jimmy Cowan, tapping a free kick to himself five metres out, appeared to force the ball down through Nicolas Durand's tackle but was denied by the television official, so all Gloucester had to show for five minutes of concerted pressure was a third penalty by Twelvetrees.
The start of the second half was in direct contrast: Perpignan lost Durand to the sin-bin and though the French side won a scrum Lopez, standing in at scrum half, was penalised for a crooked feed. Cowan tapped to himself and this time secured the try which gave battling Gloucester the lead for the first time.
It lasted no more than four minutes. Hook, the 2009 Lion in inspirational form, sent Perpignan sweeping upfield and continued to kick his goals.
Two penalties nudged the French club ahead, the second when Matt Kvesic was sent to the sin-bin for slowing down ball when it seemed Perpignan must score a try against a disrupted defence.
When Hook added a 46-metre drop goal, it completed a full house for the Welshman but Gloucester, throwing caution to the wind, came again. They forced a scrum penalty which Twelvetrees kicked but May was denied a try when the TMO ruled a forward pass by Mike Tindall.
The wing, though, would not be denied. With the crowd calling for a tip-tackle on Ryan Mills, Twelvetrees sliced through, the ball came back left and May made the extra man to score.
To the Shed's glee Mafi, the Perpignan centre, was shown a red card for upending Mills and Twelvetress stepped up to seal the deal with his fifth penalty on the stroke of time.
Gloucester R Cook; J May, M Tindall, R Mills, J Simpson-Daniel; B Twelvetrees, J Cowan (D Robson, 63); Y Thomas, H Edmonds (D George, 55), S Knight (D Murphy, 23), E Stooke, J Hudson, T Savage (captain), M Kvesic (sin bin 52-63; G Evans, 63), S Kalamafoni (A Qera, 63).
Perpignan J Hook; S Guitoune, T Benvenuti (D Marty, 56), L Mafi (red card 75), W Mjekevu (D Duvenage, 50); C Lopez, N Durand (sin bin 43-53; G Michel, 53); S Taofifenua (K Pulu, 55), G Guirado (captain; R Terrain, 63), P Ion (G Jgenti, 41), D Leo (L Charteris, 63), R Taofifenua, J Purll, A Strokosch, L Narraway (J-P Perez, 67).
Referee L Hodges (Wales).
Tries: Cowan, May
Pens: Twelvetrees 5
Pens: Hook 4