Saturday 16 December 2017

Gloucester's May pounces late on as Connacht let golden chance slip

Gloucester 23 Connacht 19


An excellent 75th-minute try from Jonny May kept alive Gloucester's faint Heineken Cup hopes with a narrow victory over Connacht yesterday.

Niall O'Connor looked to have earned Connacht their first win of the competition when his 72nd-minute penalty put the visitors 19-16 up, but replacement centre May then sailed past two defenders for the decisive score.

A disappointed Connacht coach Eric Elwood admitted his side were downbeat at the late reverse. "The dressing room is very quiet, we played extremely well and to lose in the way we did is difficult to take," he said. "We've got to keep bouncing back and though it's tough going it hasn't broken our spirit."

The Connacht forwards had shown huge commitment, knocking Gloucester out of their stride and deserved to take the spoils. Elwood paid tribute to their efforts: "We didn't play our best last week, especially up front, but today they fronted up magnificently and give us a platform from which we could play."

With four defeats from four games Connacht now have no chance of progressing and Gloucester's hopes are also slim.

Connacht made the better start and had the first opportunity for points, but O'Connor was short with a 55-metre penalty attempt. Gloucester soon responded with an exhilarating run from James Simpson-Daniel and, when the Irish were penalised, Taylor kicked his side into a seventh-minute lead with a simple penalty.

However, Connacht continued to be the better side in the opening exchanges and stung Gloucester with the opening try of the game after 11 minutes.

Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu's pass just inside his own half was intercepted by scrum-half Frank Murphy, who combined cleverly with Gavin Duffy and George Naoupu before O'Halloran collected the final pass for a superb try, which O'Connor converted.

Stung by the unexpected reverse, back came Gloucester. After a fumble from Duffy, Simpson-Daniel narrowly failed to win the approval of the television match official for a touchdown, but from the resulting five-metre scrum Taylor ran strongly to force his way his over for a try which he converted.

The visitors responded with an excellent counter-attack featuring powerful runs from Eoin Griffin and O'Halloran and, when the hosts were penalised, O'Connor tied up the scores after 30 minutes.

Some clever tactical kicking from Duffy and O'Connor kept Gloucester on the back foot and the Irish regained the lead with a penalty from O'Connor after 37 minutes to enable the visitors to hold a deserved 13-10 interval advantage.

Certain sections of the crowd were dissatisfied with the Gloucester performance in the first half and, on the restart, Burns was introduced at fly-half in place of Taylor.

But there was to be no quick remedy as once again Connacht began well and extended their lead with another O'Connor penalty.

Further home changes saw Rory Lawson and Akapusi Qera enter the fray and, spurred on by impressive efforts from Simpson-Daniel and Olly Morgan, there was more urgency in Gloucester's play and they brought the deficit back to three points with a Burns penalty.

Connacht should have nullified that score but O'Connor missed with a 20-metre drop-goal attempt and the outside-half was soon made to pay for that error as a second penalty from Burns made it 16-16.

Another fine run from O'Halloran gained Connacht a position in the home 22 and, when Gloucester were penalised, O'Connor fired over a straightforward penalty and a memorable victory for Connacht seemed likely until May's late effort.

Gloucester: O Morgan; C Sharples (J May 67), M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; T Taylor (F Burns 40), N Runciman (R Lawson 48); D Murphy (N Wood 55), S Lawson (M Cortese 79), R Harden (S Knight 64), P Buxton (W James 67), J Hamilton, B Deacon, A Hazell (A Qera 48), L Narraway

Connacht: G Duffy; M McCrea (K Tonetti 25), E Griffin, D McSharry, T O'Halloran, N O'Connor; F Murphy (O'Donohoe 58); B Wilkinson (D Rogers 77) , E Reynecke, R Loughney (Ah You 58), G Naoupu, M McCarthy, D Gannon (E McKeon 52), J O'Connor, J Muldoon (M Kearney 67) (Muldoon 73)

Referee: L Hodges (Wales)

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