Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann was relieved after edging out Connacht 33-28 in a pulsating Challenge Cup quarter-final at the Sportsground.
The Aviva Premiership side held off a spirited late comeback from the hosts to progress to the last-four of the European competition and earn a shot at returning to the final after losing last year’s decider to Stade Francais.
“It’s a mixed feeling performance-wise but I’m proud of the guys for the way they responded when it was needed,” said South African Ackermann, who is hoping to add to Gloucester’s 2015 Challenge Cup title.
First half tries from James Hanson, Tom Marshall and man-of-the-match Henry Trinder were added to after the break by veteran prop John Afoa on his 100th outing for the Cherry and Whites.
Connacht, who trailed 17-10 at half-time and twice fought back to a two-point deficit in the second half, also ran in four tries through returning Ireland internationals Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy.
Gloucester will host Premiership rivals Newcastle at Kingsholm in their semi-final in three weeks’ time, and Ackermann said his charges will need to be prepared for a stern test.
“We can’t ask for a better opportunity. We get to play at home in front of our own people and our own town. It’s not going to be easy, we know that. You have to be good on the day and be ready to play to your standards,” he added.
Connacht head coach Kieran Keane said he was not overly disappointed with the defeat, praising his team’s resilience and spirit in chasing down the Gloucester lead, but he rued some costly defensive errors and lapses of concentration.
“I do believe we’re a little bit naive as a team still. From my perspective we have an issue allowing teams into scoring areas. We know what’s going on, but unfortunately we slip up at times,” said the New Zealander.
“When we’re in possession we look pretty good at times, but sometimes we don’t.
“If we get a little narrow in our attack things go awry for us. But that try of Bundee Aki’s was a great team try, and I don’t think you’ll see many better this weekend.
“When we get it right, we get it right. But we don’t always get it right.”
Try-scoring scrum-half Marmion said that the bounce of the ball did not go Connacht’s way at crucial times.
But despite the loss and the strong likelihood of missing out on Champions Cup rugby next season, the Grand Slam winner said: “I think we’re growing as a team. We showed a good bit of character out there to come back twice. It’s obviously frustrating not to get the result in the end.”