A last-second try from Robin Copeland sealed a dramatic Heineken Champions Cup win for Connacht over Gloucester.
With six minutes remaining in the game, Connacht were trailing by 11 points but tries from substitutes Shane Delahunt and Copeland ensured the last-gasp win as they move to eight points in the Pool table.
The home side enjoyed a slim advantage at the break despite having a player sin-binned early in the half. It was during this period that Caolin Blade registered their first try of the game while Conor Fitzgerald also added a penalty.
Despite the dry conditions, Gloucester endured a number of poor handling errors and while their ill-discipline gifted Connacht a number of opportunities, Andy Friend’s side were unable to capitalise.
Nevertheless, the visitors scored three second-half tries which looked to have sealed a reasonably comfortable bonus-point win before the late drama.
Gloucester piled the pressure on Connacht’s set-pieces early on, winning a penalty from a scrum after two minutes. While the Premiership side went through the phases in the middle of the field, Bundee Aki showed his power by turning over the ball at the breakdown.
Connacht were reduced to 14 men in the 10th minute when Eoin McKeon was sent to the bin for tripping Lloyd Evans when the scrum-half attempted to take a quick penalty. Last weekend, when Kyle Godwin was yellow-carded, Gloucester capitalised with two tries, however, this time it was Andy Friend’s men who registered points during the period as Conor Fitzgerald nudged Connacht in front with a penalty.
Gloucester were again penalised minutes later while the crowd screamed for a deliberate knock-on. This time, Fitzgerald went for the corner and Connacht set up a rolling maul. After 16 phases, a massive defensive effort from Gloucester turned over possession. However, instead of kicking the ball to safety, they persisted with the ‘pick and go’ approach. Caolin Blade appeared to have touched down the ball while Callum Braley was standing over it but after a TMO review, the ball was deemed to be still in the ruck and a penalty was awarded to the visitors. Crucially, Connacht survived the sin bin period without conceding points.
Gloucester’s penalty count continued to creep up and when Freddie Clarke was penalised for offside, Fitzgerald once again went for the corner. Then it was the turn of the Cherry and Whites to be reduced to 14 men when Todd Gleave was sin-binned for persistent offsides and not rolling away. In his absence, Connacht opted for the scrum and they looked to have scored off of Blade. Again, the TMO was consulted and the try was awarded before Fitzgerald added the conversion to stretch their lead to 10 points.
Almost immediately after the try, Connacht were forced into defensive duties when Gloucester quickly worked their way down the field. Billy Twelvetrees, Gerbrandt Grobler and Josh Hockneck carried well while three advantages were given against the home side. After almost 20 phases and with 14 men, Grobler spotted a gap and scored his third European try while Twelvetrees added the extras.
Aki finished the half as he started it with another monumental turnover at the breakdown in almost the exact same position. Connacht went on one final attack before the break as Gleave returned to the pitch. With the clock in red, they barged at the line through Ultan Dillane and McKeon. The ball was held up and referee Roman Poite called for half-time much to the annoyance of the Galway crowd.
Gloucester dominated possession in the opening stages of the second half and while Connacht attacked their line during a brief period, the English side’s defence once again foiled their attempts. Thorley made a searing break down the field but while isolated, his opposite number John Porch made a terrific turnover. Back in possession, Connacht looked to clear the danger but a loose pass from Godwin was easily intercepted by Mark Atkinson who strolled to his side’s second try. However, Twelvetrees’ conversion was denied by the post.
Connacht retook the lead with 20 minutes to go through a Fitzgerald penalty but it could have been more as Dave Heffernan looked to have crossed the line only to knock on the ball in the final second. Gloucester’s error and penalty counts continued to rise gifting Connacht repeat opportunities. Yet, their impressive defensive efforts continued to keep them in the game.
Gloucester were quick to turn defence into attack and that set them up for their third try courtesy of Lewis Ludlow. It came following a sensational pass inside to the captain from Lois Rees-Zammit following a decent break from the winger. Twelvetrees was accurate this time and extended their lead to six points.
All of a sudden, Gloucester found themselves in bonus-point territory and the fourth try came just minutes later, this time, a break from Thorley splitting the Connacht defence in half before the ball was worked out to the wing where Atkinson powered over for his second try of the afternoon.
Just as the win looked certain for the visitors, Connacht turned on the style and following Delahunt’s try and Fitzgerald’s conversion, the gap was left at just two and Gloucester were unable to prevent the subsequent winning try.
Connacht: Jack Carty, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Stephen Kerins, Tom Daly, Robin Copeland.
Gloucester: Matt Banahan, Louis Rees-Zammit, Billy Twelvetrees, Mark Atkinson, Ollie Thorley, Lloyd Evans, Callum Braley; Josh Hohneck, Todd Gleave, Fraser Balmain, Alex Craig, Gerbrandt Grobler, Freddie Clarke, Lewis Ludlow (capt), Ruan Ackermann.
Replacements: Franco Marais, Alex Seville, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Franco Mostert, Ben Morgan, Joe Simpson, Danny Cipriani, Chris Harris.
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