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Gloucester suffer last-gasp defeat

Gloucester saw their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification ended in dramatic fashion at Sixways as they suffered a crushing last-gasp defeat.

Bordeaux-Begles fly-half Pierre Bernard dropped a goal with the game's final kick to secure a 23-22 victory for the French Top 14 club.

It means there will be seven French clubs in the Champions Cup next term, compared with six from the Aviva Premiership.

Gloucester looked to have done enough after Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw kicked 17 points, including a conversion of wing Henry Purdy's early try.

Purdy's touchdown and 14 points from Laidlaw's prolific right boot opened up a 16-point gap, yet a touchdown in each half by strong-running Bordeaux wing Metuisela Talebulamaijaina, plus two penalties and two conversions by Bernard before his drop-goal, had Gloucester sweating.

And they left the field utterly distraught after seeing their Champions Cup dream snatched away in such cruel fashion, even if the season did include them landing second-tier European Challenge Cup silverware.

Gloucester made three changes from the team that beat Connacht in last Sunday's opening Champions Cup play-off, but one of them was a late switch after England international Jonny May was ruled out by illness.

Purdy replaced May on the left-wing, with flanker Sione Kalamafoni returning after injury and full-back Rob Cook also being handed a start, while Bordeaux looked to bounce back from an agonising defeat against Toulouse last time out that cost them automatic European qualification.

Gloucester made all the early running, with Laidlaw kicking two penalties during the opening 10 minutes and Purdy almost breaching Bordeaux's defence following a weaving run, before his fellow wing Charlie Sharples probed persistently for an opening.

Bordeaux could only keep their line intact for so long, though, and Purdy went over in the corner after 16 minutes, with referee Leighton Hodges awarding the try following television match official consultation after it appeared that Purdy might have had his foot in touch.

Laidlaw landed the touchline conversion attempt as Gloucester moved 13-0 ahead, before he booted two further penalties as the Bordeaux front-row found itself under escalating pressure.

Bernard at least got Bordeaux moving on the scoreboard through two penalties, and just when it looked as though Gloucester might move completely out of sight, their opponents stung them with a breakaway try.

Gloucester number eight Ross Moriarty, who is expected to be named in Wales' World Cup training squad on Monday, lost possession in contact just outside the Bordeaux 22, and Talebulamaijaina sprinted clear to touch down between the posts.

Bernard added the extras, and Gloucester trooped off 19-13 ahead, wondering how they were only six points in front after dominating the half with regard to territory and possession.

Both teams were temporarily reduced to 14 men within six minutes of the restart as Hodges' patience at scrum-time snapped and he sin-binned Gloucester tighthead prop John Afoa and his opposite number Jefferson Poirot.

It was a scrappy start to the second period, and Gloucester needed to reassert some of their early dominance, but Bordeaux had other ideas and they went ahead for the first time after 58 minutes.

Despite the impressive Moriarty driving Gloucester forward, they lacked composure in key areas and Bordeaux broke impressively to hand Talebulamaijaina his second try, before Bernard's conversion made it 20-19.

Gloucester's early verve had disappeared, and with Bordeaux having considerably tightened their discipline, scoring opportunities dried up for Billy Twelvetrees' team.

Laidlaw, though, kicked Gloucester back in front with six minutes left when Bordeaux infringed in the shadow of their own posts, and that set up a nervous finale for both teams as they chased Champions Cup recognition.

Gloucester had to keep their organisation and shape in defence, and they looked as though they had managed to keep Bordeaux out until Bernard dramatically came up trumps with the game's final kick.


From Belfast Telegraph