Christmas cheer will be in short supply at Castle Grim. True, Gloucester won their first home match for the better part of two months, but the manner of their success did not bode well for the new year.
Notionally, they remain in contention in Pool Six of the Heineken Cup, where they await the result of today's match between Toulouse and Harlequins, but their starting XV suggested strongly that the Aviva Premiership is now their priority. Few teams have made more mistakes in a European match and won, and they owed victory to a missed tackle by the replacement Connacht hooker, Adrian Flavin.
Flavin found himself faced by one of the faster men on the field, JohnnyMay, as Gloucester searched for a gap some 30 metres from the Connacht line without looking likely to find one. But once May had stepped out of the tackle there was nothing to stop his flight to the corner. Freddie Burns nailed the conversion.
So from the prospect of a first Heineken Cup win, Connacht had to be content with a losing bonus point. The least-considered of the four Irish provinces deserved more: Niall O'Connor's kicking kept their noses in front until four minutes remained, and had Kyle Tonetti made the line after being sent clear by Tiernan O'Halloran, it might have been enough.
O'Halloran and Eoin Griffin have attracted the interest of Ireland's selectors, and with six of the Connacht team having Premiership experience, Kingsholm held no great fears. "We were in control of the game and our own destiny," said Eric Elwood, Connacht's coach. "To lose in the manner we did, after all the good rugby we played, was difficult to take."
Seldom will Gloucester's kicking have found defenders with such accuracy. Having won in Galway a week earlier, and exerted a degree of dominance at the set-piece, they might have expected to kick on at home, but once they had conceded O'Halloran's early try they found it nigh-on impossible to build any kind of platform. Even when they changed their half-backs in the third quarter, Gloucester's handling lacked accuracy. The likes of Nick Wood, Will James and Burns, virtual ever-presents this season, came off the bench but their endeavours were undermined by the misjudgements of colleagues.
"We looked a bit nervous, a bit cautious as well," said Bryan Redpath, the Gloucester head coach. "We've had a tough two or three months, lost three on the bounce at home – a lot of people remind us of that. Maybe it was a bit smothering for some people, and I don't think the crowd were wrong [at half-time] to show their feelings."
It started well enough, James Simpson-Daniel carving open the midfield and Tim Taylor, replaced at half-time because of a damaged thumb, kicking a penalty. But when Frank Murphy intercepted on halfway from Charlie Sharples, Connacht flooded forward and Gavin Duffy and George Naoupu made the try for O'Halloran.
Gloucester recovered the lead when Taylor dummied through behind a five-metre scrum, but by the interval O'Connor had kicked two penalties, and his third just after half-time gave Connacht a six-point lead. There was a composure to them which kept Gloucester at arm's length but Burns levelled with two penalties, one from close range and one from more than 40 metres.
A crowd of over 10,000 had every right to expect more than that, and when O'Connor edged Connacht back ahead there was no reason to suppose the Irish would not hold out. Johnny O'Connor waged a remarkable contest for the loose ball and Paul O'Donohoe nearly skipped clear at a ruck before Gloucester got back into their opponents' half.
It seemed their chance had gone when Scott Lawson dropped the ball in midfield, but it went backwards and Gloucester kept pressing. May took his chance and Connacht could do no more.
Gloucester O Morgan; C Sharples (J May, 68), M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; T Taylor (F Burns, 41), N Runciman (R Lawson, 49); D Murphy (N Wood, 56), S Lawson(M Cortese, 76), R Harden (S Knight, 65), P Buxton (W James, 68), J Hamilton, B Deacon, L Narraway (capt), A Hazell (A Qera, 49).
Connacht G Duffy (capt); M McCrea (K Tonetti, 26), E Griffin, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy (P O'Donohoe,58); B Wilkinson, E Reynecke (A Flavin, 56), R Loughney (R Ah You, 58), G Naoupu, M McCarthy (M Kearney, 68), D Gannon(E McKeon, 52), J Muldoon (Kearney, 68-73), J O'Connor.
Referee L Hodges (Wales).
Tries: Taylor, May
Cons: Taylor, Burns
Pens: Taylor, Burns 2
Con: N O'Connor
Pens: N O'Connor 4