Connacht facing into the European abyss after Gloucester pick up bonus point win in Kingsholm clash
Gloucester 26 Connacht 17
Connacht face being out of the European running by Christmas after coming away from Kingsholm with nothing this afternoon.
Bottom of Pool 5 after three games, Andy Friend's men need a bonus point win in the return fixture at the Sportsground next Saturday to retain any hope of reaching the knockouts.
It looks like a long shot after Gloucester picked up a deserved four-try bonus point having been by far the better side in a poor match.
They played most of the rugby and could have made things a lot worse for their Irish guests if they'd taken more of their chances.
Playing with a strong wind at their backs from the off, Connacht needed to get ahead but instead they spent most of the first-half
defending as Gloucester took the game to them and caused all sorts of problems for the Irish province.
Yet, it was the westerners who took a three-point lead into half-time in part because of their excellent scramble defence and break down work but moreso due to their hosts' wastefulness.
Perhaps the opening try gave Gloucester the sense that things were going to be easy enough as Gerbrandt Grobler picked off Tom McCartney's throw and, off a midfield ruck, Tom Marshall ghosted past Bundee Aki and Niyi Adeolokun to open the scoring.
Danny Cipriani converted and the home side were almost in again as Ollie Thorley ran over Adeolokun and looked set to put the support runner over until John Porch stepped in and intercepted the ball.
And the Australian Sevens player was soon celebrating at the other end as Quinn Roux won Gloucester's lineout against the head, Colby Fainga'a, Aki and Eoghan Masterson carried well and Jack Carty brilliantly opened the door for Porch with an offload out of a double-hit.
He converted and added a penalty and despite a dominant maul and a series of visits to the '22 the English side couldn't get back in the ascendancy.
They should have led; centre Mark Atkinson stumbled after a big break before hooker Franco Marais looked to have score after Cipriani turned down easy points, but knocked on after peeling off the back of a maul.
As the conditions worsened, Carty missed a chance to make it a six-point game at half-time and Connacht couldn't score when Cipriani had a moment of madness to hand them a scrum on the edge of the '22 when kicking the restart out on the full after being advised not to by referee Pascal Gauzere.
So, it was 10-7 at the interval and facing into the wind and rain the Irish side were facing a tough task to keep their quarter-final ambitions on track.
Gloucester finally took a deserved lead just as Connacht were looking to add to their lead after Eoghan Masterson picked off Marais in the
Cherry and Whites' '22.
Playing off slow ball, Carty looked to connect with Jarrad Butler but Cirpriani read his intentions and picked him off to race clear before finding Louis Rees-Zammit on his shoulder.
The out-half converted and Caolin Blade botched a chance to punish a lapse by his opposite number Joe Simpson when he knocked on at the base of a maul deep in Gloucester territory.
Carty compounded that error by kicking the ball out on the full and was swiftly taken off. His replacement Conor Fitzgerald's first act was to throw a forward pass.
That put them on the back foot and Marshall almost got on the end of a clever Cipriani chip.
Gauzere was playing advantage, so Ben Morgan called for a scrum and another chance went a-begging as Thorley couldn't take another Cipriani chip.
Again, he was playing with advantage and this time the French official lost his patience and sent Kyle Godwin to the sin-bin.
This time, they attacked off the scrum and made the numbers count as Morgan dummied his way past Porch to go over on Godwin's wing.
Cipriani missed the conversion, but it didn't matter minutes later as his team celebrated their bonus point try through Jake Polledri who brushed off a poor Denis Buckley tackle to score from the 10m line.
Things were threatening to get ugly for the tiring visitors as Cipriani continued to target Godwin's flank and Porch did well to stop Rees-Zammit from getting his second.
Instead, the winger had to be alert to deny Masterson before Tom Daly was held up short as Connacht went in search of a second try.
They got some help when Billy Twelvetrees got a yellow card and after much effort they finally got over the line through Dominic Roberston-McCoy but he knocked on while trying to ground.
Roux did force his way over at the death, but it was scant consolation for Friend and his side who are staring down the barrel.
GLOUCESTER – T Marshall; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris (B Twelvetrees 72), M Atkinson (B Twelvetrees 16-25), O Torley; D Cipriani (M Banahan 73), J Simpson (C Braley 67); V Rapava Ruskin (J Hohneck 53), F Marais (T Gleave 73), F Balmain (J Ford-Robinson 74); G Grobler, F Mostert (A Craig 67); R Ackermann (L Ludlow 68), J Polledri, B Morgan.
CONNACHT – J Porch; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb (T Daly 72), K Godwin; J Carty (C Fitzgerald 52), C Blade (S Kerins 66); D Buckley (P McCabe 65), T McCartney (J Murphy 66), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 55); J Maksymiw (U Dillane 55), Q Roux; E Masterson, C Fainga'a (R Copeland 28), J Butler (capt).
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)