Generous souls, these Gloucester types. The Cherry and Whites did everything in their power to give Harlequins a helping hand on the Heineken Cup qualification front last night, putting four tries past the most successful club in the tournament's history to register a victory of stunning magnitude. Over in the west of Ireland, Quins did their level best to muck things up for themselves and duly did so by losing to Connacht by a point, 9-8, handing the pool victory to a deeply relieved Toulouse. There's gratitude for you.
The game at Kingsholm had some high-voltage electricity about it from the start, although the first significant act was of the lights-out variety, committed by the Gloucester prop Nick Wood in the first minute. George Clancy, the referee, decided Wood was up to no good at a ruck on the Toulouse 22 and immediately flourished a yellow card in his direction. Playing against the French champions with a full complement of personnel is never less than a test of the most severe variety, so the West Countrymen faced a brutal examination now.
Yet it was they who opened the scoring. Freddie Burns hung a skyscraper kick on the Toulouse rearguard and put Timoci Matanavou in serious trouble and strife. Matanavou tried to wriggle his way out of the in-goal area but finally exhausted all running possibilities and attempted a clearance kick instead. This was charged down by Jonny May, who also won the race to the touchdown. Burns converted to give his side a precious advantage.
It lasted all of four minutes. Matanavou made up for his previous indiscretion by leading a lightning-fast break-out from defence and Thierry Dusautoir set sail from 40 metres to claim the equalising score.
From there, the game developed into a compelling duel of the cut-and-thrust variety, with both sides willing to give the ball width and run onto it from a variety of finally calculated angles. Brilliant hands in midfield allowed Matanavou to score in the right corner after Lionel Beauxis had given his side the lead with a penalty, but Gloucester, with the free-roaming Luke Narraway and the dangerous wings Charlie Sharples and James Simpson-Daniel to the fore, struck back with an equally fine try, completed by their Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera, who was also playing a blinder. At the break, Toulouse were only three breathless points ahead.
It was not a lead they defended for long, for Sharples put the cat amongst the pigeons immediately on the resumption after Burns had displayed considerable intelligence in milking an advantage and catching Toulouse napping to launch an attack down the right. Mike Tindall's toe-poke and May's sweet inside pass did the rest. When the outside-half added a penalty 11 minutes later, there was a genuine chance of an upset.
But Toulouse are not four-time champions for nothing. Beauxis, one of the most formidable kicking stand-offs in the world game, suddenly chanced his arm with a broken-field run, instigating a stunning attack involving Dusautoir, Clément Poitrenaud and Maxime Médard, who combined to give Matanavou his second try. Beauxis added the extras to square it at 24-apiece. It was fast becoming the most engrossing Heineken Cup game ever seen at this famous old venue.
Then came the killer moments. Burns banged over a penalty after the highly-rated young prop Shaun Knight took it upon himself to boss Toulouse around at a defensive scrum. Then, Simpson-Daniel wrong-footed Matanavou down the left before finding May on the optimum line. The full-back, so fleet of foot, raced to the left corner for a try magisterially converted by his outside-half. Sensational.
Scorers: Gloucester: Tries May 2, Qera, Sharples; Conversions Burns 4; Penalties Burns 2. Toulouse: Tries Matanavou 2, Dusautoir; Conversions Beauxis 3; Penalty Beauxis.
Gloucester: J May; C Sharples, M Tindall (R Mills, 65), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (H Trinder, 58), J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, R Lawson (D Lewis, 73); N Wood (D Murphy, 71), S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 57), R Harden (S Knight ,63), J Hamilton, A Brown (W James, 71), A Strokosch, A Qera (Murphy 4-12, M Cox 70), L Narraway (capt).
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (Y Donguy, 71); T Matanavou, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, M Medard; L Beauxis, L Burgess (J-M Doussain, 63); G Steenkamp (D Human, 48), W Servat, C Johnston (J-B Poux, 56), Y Maestri (G Lamboley, 48), P Albacete, T Dusautoir (capt), Y Nyanga (J Bouilhou, 60), L Picamoles (S Sowerby, 59).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).