Gloucester 40 Connacht 32 (AET): It had all the hallmarks of past heartbreaks. Connacht, punching above their weight, looked set to close in on the ultimate prize, only to be denied at the bitter end, whether by their own hand, or by questionable refereeing decisions.
Connacht coach Pat Lamsaid the journey to elite rugby is far from over. “It’s hard, hard. No one gave us a chance, and we should have and could have won it. For us, we are going to get better and we will build on it next year,” he said. “We are on a journey of where we want to take Connacht Rugby, and this is all part of it.”
Despite another poor start, Connacht went 25-18 up and looked like marching towards Champions Cup rugby and a home date with Bordeaux-Begles when Gloucester struck for a late try and send the game into extra-time.
But David Humphreys’ players, rested last week, had the legs to finish the job. The TMO’s decision that there was no obstruction or foul play when Bill Meakes danced through the Connacht defence to score a controversial try, but Lam says he’s “not talking about referees” after being handed previous sanctions.
“It went to the TMO and they made the calls. Certainly it looked like blocking, one of our players was taken out, but you have to live with those calls unfortunately, and move on,” he said. Gloucester had the resources in the final moments of extra time to finish with a flourish. A yellow card for Connacht replacement hooker Dave Heffernan helped their cause, and Darren Dawiduk crossed to take a one-point lead. Then it was Jonny May — the player who broke Connacht’s hearts several years ago — who sealed the deal with a try in the ninth minute of extra time.
Once again Connacht paid the price for a poor start and disappointing finish — Gloucester opening after just 122 seconds when No 8 Ross Moriarty was given the nod for the first try by TMO, and Greig Laidlaw added the conversion for a 7-0 lead. Connacht worked their way back into the contest from the restart, and garbbed a 10- 7 lead thanks to a John Cooney try and Carty’s resulting conversion and earlier penalty. Gloucester edged the scrum and out wide Connacht’s defence needed to be on its toes — an overlap allowing Charlie Sharples to post a second try.
However Connacht continued to find a way forward. Fionn Carrcut a straight line from Jack Carty’s pass, and the young out-half finished and converted for a 17-15 half-time lead.
Although Gloucester restored the lead within three minutes, Connacht grabbed a valuable foothold after 60 minutes despite being a player down.
Carty’s inch-perfect chip was caught by Healy, who raced in for Connacht’s third try. Carty missed the touchline conversion, but it gave Connacht a 22-18 lead after 61 minutes.
And in a frantic finish, thanks to a John Muldoon intercept and Healy’s well-judged kick, Connacht finished the game in their opponents half with Carty adding an extra three points for a 25-18 lead. At the time seemed enough.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran, F Carr, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, G Naoupu, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), E Masterson, E McKeon.
Replacements, F Bealham for Ah You and A Browne for Naoupu (54), Ian Porter for Cooney (64), S O’Leary for O’Halloran (65m), D Heffernan for McCartney (70m), J Connolly for Masterson (70m), M Nikora for O’Halloran (75m)
GLOUCESTER: C Sharples, J May, B Meakes, B Twelvetrees (cpt), H Purdy, J Hook, G Laidlaw, N Wood, R Hibbard, J Afoa, T Savage, T Palmer, J Rowan, D Thomas, R Moriarty.
Replacements, R Cook for Purdy (50), D Dawidiuk for Hibbard (60), D Robson for Sharples (64), Y Thomas for Wood and L Ludlow for Thomas (both 65),E Stooke for Moriarty (70), Y Thomas for Wood (65). Extra time, S Night for Afoa (8), R Moriarty for Ludlow (8)
Referee: R Poite (FFR).
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