Gloucester set up all-Premiership semi-final clash with Newcastle after seeing off spirited Connacht in Challenge Cup

Connact 28-33 Gloucester: Eight-try thriller in west Ireland sees last year’s runners-up reach the last four as Henry Trinder pushes his England claims

Sports Staff
Saturday 31 March 2018 17:53
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Henry Trinder claimed the man-of-the-match award as Gloucester beat Connacht 33-28
Henry Trinder claimed the man-of-the-match award as Gloucester beat Connacht 33-28

Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann was relieved after edging out Connacht Rugby 33-28 in a pulsating European Challenge Cup quarter-final at the Sportsground.

The Aviva Premiership side held off a spirited late comeback from the hosts to progress to the last-four of the European competition and earn a shot at returning to the final after losing last year's decider to Stade Francais.

"It's a mixed feeling performance-wise but I'm proud of the guys for the way they responded when it was needed," said South African Ackermann, who is hoping to add to Gloucester's 2015 Challenge Cup title.

First half tries from James Hanson, Tom Marshall and man-of-the-match Henry Trinder were added to after the break by veteran prop John Afoa on his 100th outing for the Cherry and Whites.

Connacht, who trailed 17-10 at half-time and twice fought back to a two-point deficit in the second half, also ran in four tries through returning Ireland internationals Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy.

Gloucester will host Premiership rivals Newcastle at Kingsholm in their semi-final in three weeks' time, and Ackermann said his charges will 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.

Kieron Marmion dives over the line to score for Connacht

Connacht head coach Kieran Keane said he was not overly disappointed with the defeat, praising his team's resilience and spirit in chasing down the Gloucester lead, but he rued some costly defensive errors and lapses of concentration.

"I do believe we're a little bit naive as a team still. From my perspective we have an issue allowing teams into scoring areas. We know what's going on, but unfortunately we slip up at times," said the New Zealander.

"When we're in possession we look pretty good at times, but sometimes we don't. If we get a little narrow in our attack things go awry for us. But that try of Bundee Aki's was a great team try, and I don't think you'll see many better this weekend.

"When we get it right, we get it right. But we don't always get it right."

Try-scoring scrum-half Marmion said that the bounce of the ball did not go Connacht's way at crucial times.

But despite the loss and the strong likelihood of missing out on Champions Cup rugby next season, the Grand Slam winner said: "I think we're growing as a team. We showed a good bit of character out there to come back twice. It's obviously frustrating not to get the result in the end."

Gloucester replacement Billy Twelvetrees' 77th-minute penalty proved to be the final score of an eight-try thriller.

Connacht fell behind in the third minute when Quinn Roux stole Hanson's lineout throw but the tap-down bounced nicely for the Gloucester hooker, who gathered and cut inside Healy for a 5-0 lead.

In response, the Irish province forced a scrum penalty and threatened from a maul. 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 number eight 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.

Gloucester will face Premiership opposition in Newcastle in the semi-finals

The wind foiled Carty's conversion attempt and it was a similar case for fly-half Owen Williams' kick after Gloucester had released winger Marshall for the left corner. Welshman Williams' 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 and over for the lead try.

Williams finally bisected the posts with a cracking conversion, and it was the Wales international's 41-metre penalty which opened the second half's scoring.

However, Connacht winger Adeolokun then burst into life, beating Marshall and Williams to Marmion's grubber kick over the try-line. A subsequent Carty penalty had the gap down to 20-18 but Gloucester had an answer.

They blew a couple of opportunities before Williams' pull-back pass had Mark Atkinson dashing into space and he gave the supporting Afoa a clear run to the line. Williams converted and tapped the nail into Connacht's coffin further with a 63rd-minute penalty.

The westerners' never-say-die attitude brought them back into contention, replacement Craig Ronaldson landing a penalty after Gloucester flanker Lewis Ludlow was binned for a shoulder charge on Marmion. Aki then threaded a kick through for Healy to collect and step inside Jason Woodward for a 70th-minute converted try.

With their lead cut to 30-28, 14-man Gloucester showed impressive composure and duly dominated possession, Twelvetrees knocking over a vital three-pointer after Connacht openside Jarrad Butler saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on.

Teams

Connacht: O'Halloran, Adeolokun, Aki, Farrell, Healy, Carty, Marmion, Buckley, McCartney, Bealham, Thornbury, Roux, E McKeon, Butler, Muldoon.

Replacements: Heffernan, McCabe, Carey, Dillane, Masteron, Blade, Ronaldson, Leader.

Gloucester: Woodward, Sharples, Trinder, Atkinson, Marshall, Williams, Heinz, Rapava Ruskin, Hanson, Afoa, Slater, Thrush, Moriarty, Ludlow, Morgan.

Replacements: Matu'u, Hohneck, Balmain, Savage, Ackermann, Braley, Burns, Twelvetrees.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

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