Pool 5 looks bleak for Connacht now.
Defeat here, and the costly failure to scrape even a losing bonus point from the day, leaves Andy Friend’s side with an almost impossible task if they are to make history and reach the quarter-final stages of this tournament for the first time.
This was their second reversal in the first three rounds. There was no bonus point to bring home from Toulouse last month either but that at least was a performance littered with encouragement for the province. This was very different.
This was grim by the end and the context only makes it worse. Gloucester had lost their last five games and they were winless from their first two Champions Cup outings.
Four points from three games is a poor return for Connacht’s efforts to date so five points from the return next week is essential if they are to have any hope of doing enough come January when they face Toulouse at home and Montpellier in France.
Connacht were dogged here, as always.
They stymied Gloucester’s best efforts time and again on a wet, windy and dark afternoon in the West Country but they offered precious little in attack and their struggles were emphasised by the decision to remove out-half Jack Carty early in the second-half.
Carty’s struggles were in contrast to Danny Cipriani who sprinkled his performance with moments of genuine class although the English side were, understandably for a side low in confidence and light on form, ordinary enough in many ways.
If Connacht were an English or French side then odds are they would already be recalibrating their season’s ambitions. But that’s not how they see it.
“We want to get five points next week,” said Jarrad Butler. “We wanted to get five points this week if we could. One of our goals last season was to be involved in the Champions Cup and we’re not going to park it now just because of a couple of disappointing performances.”
This wasn’t all bad. Gloucester struck early, with full-back Tom Marshall gliding in for a converted try but Connacht were on even terms within five minutes when Carty worked an offload for Jordan Porch whose pace and angle of approach took him over. A Carty penalty was the only other score in the half but the visitors were living on their wits.
There was at least four occasions when Gloucester’s advances were stopped in their tracks by some superb spoiling at the breakdown and hooker Franco Marais had a five-pointer ruled out shortly before the interval because of a barely visible knock-on.
It was a loose pass from Carty on the restart that turned the game against them. Cipriani intercepted on his own 22 and raced half the length of the pitch before setting up his wing Louis Ress-Zammit for a run under the posts.
Carty kicked a ball straight to touch soon after and it wasn’t long again before he was being replaced by Conor Fitzgerald. Gloucester were dominating and Cipriani pulling the strings as only he can.
Two grubbers very nearly put Marshall and Ollie Thorley in for scores but the pressure eventually told. Kyle Godwin was sent to the sinbin for straying offside and then Marshall and Jake Polledri pounced to claim tries number three and four.
Polledri’s was particularly annoying given he waltzed through the defensive line untouched and it’s not like it was a one-off. Marshall’s first score of the afternoon was similar in that no Connacht player was anywhere near him.
“We did a really good job in the first-half under a lot of pressure to still be in the contest. Gloucester did a really good job of controlling that game,” said Butler. “Then, in the second-half, the way they plugged it into the corners, they made it really hard to get any more ascendancy.
“We’ll definitely go back to the drawing-board, we’ve to play them again in six days’ time.”
Likelihood is they will do it without Colby Fainga’a who was an early casualty yesterday. The indications are that the back row damaged his knee again although Friend was confident that Eoin McKeon will return to fitness.
“We needed a bonus point here at least,” he admitted. “Two would have been even better. A win would have been even better but it’s not to be. We’ll have a look and think about how we approach this one now.
“We’re still in a position. We’re going to need a lot of things going our way, but we can still come second in that pool. We’ll see how we go with that.”
GLOUCESTER: T Marshall; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris, M Atkinson, O Thorley; D Cipriani, J Simpson; V Rapava Ruskin, F Marais, F Balmain; G Grobler, F Mostert; R Ackermann, J Polledri, B Morgan.
Replacements: B Twelvetrees for Atkinson, (16-25, blood); J Hohneck for Rapava Ruskin (58); L Ludlam for Ackermann and A Craig for Mostert (both 66); C Braley for Simpson (67); B Twelvetrees for Harris (71); T Gleave for Marais and M Banahan for Cipriani (both 72); J Ford-Robinson for Balmain (75).
CONNACHT: J Porch; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, K Godwin; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; J Maksymiw, Q Roux; E Masterson, C Fainga’a, J Butler.
Replacements: R Copeland for Fainga’a (28); C Fitzgerald for Carty (52); U Dillan for Maksymiw and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (both 56); T Daly for Robb and P McCabe for Buckley (both 65); J Murphy for McCartney and S Kerins for Blade (both 66).
Referee: P Gauzère (France).