Exeter remained on course for the play-offs after claiming a dramatic injury-time victory. Substitute lock Aly Muldowney's last-gasp try, which was awarded on the judgement of the television match official, Tony Spreadbury, and converted by Muldowney's replacement, Gareth Steenson, gave the Chiefs a seventh win from their past eight away games.
They looked to have blown it when Gloucester staged a stunning fightback from 18-6 adrift with three converted tries during a devastating seven-minute burst. Wing James Simpson-Daniel, fly-half Freddie Burns – courtesy of a brilliant solo try when he caught his own kick ahead one-handed – and replacement scrum-half Nick Runciman all touched down, while goalkicker Burns finished with 17 points.
Exeter looked as though they would head back down the M5 with only a losing bonus point, secured by Steenson's late penalty, and they would have been kicking themselves after prop Craig Mitchell and wing Matt Jess claimed first-half tries. Fly-half Ignacio Mieres added two penalties and a conversion, but just when it looked as though Exeter were finished they dug deep to claim a first win in their history at Kingsholm.
It represented a memorable recovery act – and considerable character – leaving Gloucester to reflect on playing their part in a 55-point thriller, but with nothing to show for it apart from a losing bonus.
Exeter went ahead after 23 minutes when Mitchell powered over between the posts following a delicious offload by hooker Chris Whitehead, with Mieres's conversion making it 7-3. Gloucester and Scotland lock Jim Hamilton enjoyed a major let-off when he appeared to punch HaydnThomas, who fell to the floor on the halfway line, yet referee Greg Garner opted for a yellow card after consulting with his assistant Don Helme. Citing officials are sure to study the footage closely, and Hamilton might not have heard the last of it, but Exeter made him pay by collecting a second try with Jess crossing unmarked wide out. Exeter were outstanding value for their lead and they almost extended it on the stroke of half-time when lock James Hanks looked to have touched down, only for Spreadbury to rule otherwise. But dominant Exeter still had the final word through a Mieres penalty that made it 15-3 at the break. Burns cut the deficit to nine points with a penalty two minutes after the restart as Hamilton reappeared, only for Mieres to cancel out that strike.
The home side finally breached Exeter's defence after 58 minutes through a trademark overlap try poached by Simpson-Daniel and converted by Burns, with Burns and then Runciman adding to those scores.
But Exeter made a late recovery when Muldowney and Steenson combined to produce the final scoring act of a pulsating contest. "The only way you win in the Premiership is by going after games, and our endeavour to play was fantastic," said Exeter's head coach, Rob Baxter.
Gloucester's coach, Bryan Redpath, looked for consolation when said: "We have got four games left to get in the top six and secure qualification for the Heineken Cup."
Meanwhile, Sale Sharks's first-team coach, Tony Hanks, has left the club following Friday's 45-9 home defeat by Saracens. Sale have lost 10 of their 18 Premiership games this season.
Gloucester: J May; C Sharples, M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, (T Molenaar, 75) J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns (T Taylor, 67), D Lewis (N Runciman, 49); D Murphy, S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 72), R Harden (D Chistolini, 28-40, 73), J Hamilton, A Brown (T Savage, 42); M Cox, A Qera, K Narraway (capt; P Buxton, 72).
Exeter: P Dollman; G Camacho (S Naqelevuki, 57), B Rennie, J Shoemark, M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson, 55), H Thomas (K Barrett, 60); H Tui (B Moon, 50), C Whitehead (N Clark, 63), C Mitchell, T Hayes (capt), J Hanks (A Muldowney, 63); T Johnson (B White, 67), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.
Referee: G Garner (Warwick).