Rugby Union

Gloucester 14 - 7 Connacht: Match report

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Gloucester held on to survive a spirited Connacht comeback and secure their spot in the European Challenge Cup semi finals.

Gloucester qualified as number one seeds from the pool stages, winning all six of their pool games and taking 29 points from a possible 30.

But after losing their last three European quarter finals, the Cherry and Whites were well aware that they would need to build on their pool-stage supremacy to progress to the last four.

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Gloucester were clearly determined not to slip at the same hurdle for a fourth time in a row and they dominated possession and territory early on. In the slippery conditions and swirling winds the hosts kept the ball in hand and attacked with intent and urgency but struggled to penetrate a defiant Connacht defence.

The visitors repelled the Cherry and Whites' early advances but they were unable to break out of their own half. All of their ambitious attempts to counter attack were quelled and their kicks were comfortably collected and returned by the Gloucester backs.

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Connacht were eventually punished for their loose kicking. In the 22nd minute, James Hook gathered Danie Poolman's poor clearance and skipped through a gaping gap before passing inside to Stevie McColl, who put Charlie Sharples in under the post.

Greig Laidlaw converted and the hosts resumed their onslaught. Connacht refused to compete at the breakdown and chose to flood their defensive line with bodies, which meant that Gloucester were enjoying quick ball but there were very few gaps in the green wall.

However, Hook once again engineered an opening. The Welshman chipped in behind the Connacht defence, the ball bobbled across the turf before bouncing away from the covering Kieran Marmion and straight into the arms of Bill Meakes, who strolled over in the 31st minute. Laidlaw added the extras.

Mils Muliaina compounded the Connacht misery when he limped off a few minutes later but the visitors survived another Gloucester siege before they were temporarily relieved by the half-time whistle.

Gloucester march on

Connacht did enjoy some more possession after the interval and they managed to build a series of phase in midfield but Matt Kvesic tormented them at the breakdown and whenever Connacht did venture into the opposing 22, they were turned over.

Laidlaw was presented with an opportunity to extend Gloucester's lead in the 61st minute, but his attempt was wide of the mark and three minutes later the visitors hauled themselves back to within touching distance.

The visitors won a penalty in the shadow of the Gloucester posts but Jack Carty opted to kick for the corner. Connacht set a maul up from the resulting lineout and rumbled towards the line, Robbie Henshaw bundled his way over before Mathieu Raynal went sprinting under the posts to award a penalty try. Carty converted to make the score 14-7.

The clamour of the shed heads began to swell and but it was Connacht that raised the tempo. Fuelled by desperation, the Irishmen pressed forward but the Gloucester defence held out.

Gloucester remain on course for their first European title since 2006 and will now host either the Exeter Chiefs or Newcastle Falcons in the semi final later this month.

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