Champions Cup play-off: Gloucester 40-32 Connacht
|Gloucester (15) 40|
|Tries: Moriarty, Sharples, Meakes, Dawidiuk, May. Cons: Laidlaw 3 Pens: Laidlaw 2, Hook|
|Connacht (17) 32|
|Tries: J. Cooney, Carty, Healy 2 Cons: Carty 3 Pens: Carty 2|
Gloucester beat Connacht after a thrilling extra-time encounter at Kingsholm to set up a final Champions Cup play-off game with Bordeaux-Begles.
A late Bill Meakes try for the hosts, after a controversial penalty, forced the extra 20 minutes.
Matt Healy's 92nd-minute try gave Connacht the lead but tries by Darren Dawidiuk and Jonny May settled the outcome.
Gloucester play Bordeaux in Worcester on 31 May for a Champions Cup place.
Bordeaux's 23-22 defeat by Toulouse on Saturday meant they failed to make France's Top 14 play-offs, which would have secured automatic Champions Cup qualification.
Gloucester made 12 changes from their defeat at Bath last week and the English side scored after only two minutes, Ross Moriarty going over for a try after a line-out drive.
John Cooney, starting at scrum-half for Connacht in place of the injured Kieran Marmion, retaliated for the visitors with a long-range effort after full-back Charlie Sharples coughed up the ball in the tackle.
Sharples crossed to give Gloucester the lead again following a break by James Hook, but the Irish side were back in front almost immediately through a try by Jack Carty.
Connacht's 17-15 half-time lead was increased shortly after the restart when Healy, unattended by Sharples, collected a cross-field kick and touched down.
Pat Lam's Connacht side appeared to have made the game safe when Carty kicked a penalty in the 78th minute.
However, Gloucester were given something of a lifeline when Connacht were penalised at the breakdown by referee Romain Poite, even though it was a Gloucester player who appeared not to be rolling away.
And when Meakes eluded three defenders for a try from the last move of normal time, which Greig Laidlaw converted to level the scores, extra-time was required.
Healy sprinted over for his second try with two minutes remaining in the first half of the additional minutes, but after Connacht replacement Dave Heffernan was yellow carded, Gloucester took full advantage.
First Dawidiuk forced his way over from the back of a line-out, before England winger May started and finished a magnificent length-of-the-field effort.
Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys:
"We made more mistakes today than we have over the last six months but once again we showed our never-say-die character.
"We've had a lot of tight games recently and, in close games, we rely on our experienced players to make big decisions at crucial times.
"I thought we had lost it and all credit to Connacht, who have had a number of hard games recently, they were fully committed throughout."
Connacht head coach Pat Lam:
"I'm proud of the boys but absolutely gutted for them. When we went ahead in extra time, I thought we would win it but we needed to control the ball and didn't.
"That try [by Meakes] looked like a block to us but the TMO ruled against and you've got to live with those tough calls.
"The crowd went crazy and it was uplifting for Gloucester but we composed ourselves and looked to have won it in extra-time."
Gloucester: Sharples, May, Meakes, Twelvetrees, Purdy, Hook, Laidlaw, Wood, Hibbard, Afoa, Savage, Palmer, Rowan, D. Thomas, Moriarty.
Replacements: Robson for Sharples (65), Cook for Purdy (52), Ludlow for Wood (66), Dawidiuk for Hibbard (60), Y. Thomas for D. Thomas (66), Stooke for Moriarty (72).
Not Used: Knight, Burns.
Sin Bin: Afoa (34).
Connacht: O'Halloran, Carr, Henshaw, Aki, Healy, Carty, J. Cooney, Buckley, McCartney, Ah You, Naoupu, Muldowney, Muldoon, Masteron, E. McKeon.
Replacements: O'Leary for O'Halloran (66), Nikora for Carr (76), Porter for J. Cooney (65), Heffernan for McCartney (71), Browne for Ah You (55), Bealham for Naoupu (55), A. Conneely for E. McKeon (72).
Not Used: J. Cooney.
Sin Bin: Buckley (34), Masteron (56), Porter (95).