Gloucester and Cardiff book semi spots
CHALLENGE CUP WRAP: Last season's European Rugby Challenge Cup runners-up Gloucester Rugby have booked their place in the final four after a bruising 33-28 triumph over Connacht Rugby on a blustery Saturday at the Sportsground.
Tries from James Hanson, Tom Marshall, Henry Trinder and John Afoa led Johan Ackermann's side into the semi-final stages, where they will host Newcastle Falcons at Kingholm Stadium in April.
Cardiff Blues progressed to the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-finals as they clinched a 20-6 victory against Edinburgh Rugby at BT Murrayfield in the Scottish capital on Saturday.
Tries from Ellis Jenkins and Blaine Scully as well as 10 points from the reliable boot of Jarrod Evans saw Cardiff Blues claim an away win in the knockout stages, with their reward being a home fixture against Pau at Cardiff Arms Park in April.
All the scores and scorers!
Connacht 28-33 Gloucester
In an open and expansive opening exchange, Gloucester hooker Hanson seized on a loose line-out ball to storm home for the opening try of the match, only for Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion to snipe through the Cherry and Whites defence four minutes later to level the scores.
Visitors Gloucester were soon reduced to 14 men as No.8 Ben Morgan was shown a yellow card and Connacht put their personnel advantage to work as centre Bundee Aki, fresh from an excellent Six Nations campaign with champions Ireland, offered a display of pace and power to force his way over the line as the hosts took a 10-5 lead.
With numbers even once again, Gloucester soon levelled up the scoreboard as a looping pass landed in the path of wing Marshall, who slid home in the left corner, but it was a moment of individual brilliance from Trinder, evading five defenders on his way over the whitewash, which gave the tourists a 17-10 lead at the interval.
Gloucester restarted in the same vain, pressuring the Connacht defence, which led to Owen Williams adding a three-pointer from the kicking tee, but the hosts soon wrestled the momentum as winger Niyi Adeolokun successfully landed on Marmion's excellently weighted grubber to chalk up a third home try.
With Connacht fighting back, Gloucester's defence would this time be tested and Jack Carty trimmed the deficit to just two points when he added a penalty kick with half an hour to play.
Ackermann's Gloucester, though, regained control as Williams slotted a second penalty before barnstorming prop Afoa, celebrating his 100th appearance for the club, broke free to charge home a fourth try and push the advantage to 12 points, but still, Connacht would not relent.
Gloucester were again reduced to 14 men as Lewis Ludlow was yellow carded and with 10 minutes to play winger Matt Healy extended his Challenge Cup return to 16 tries in 16 appearances to bring the hosts within two once again, but Connacht could not muster enough to prevent the two-times Challenge Cup winners from securing their place in the final four.
Tries: Marmion, Aki, Adeolokun, Healy
Pens: Carty, Ronaldson
Tries: Hanson, Marshall, Trinder, Afoa
Cons: Williams 2
Pens: Williams 2, Twelvetrees
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 David Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Darragh Leader
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Ed Slater, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Ruan Ackermann, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Billy Twelvetrees
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Vincent Blasco Baque (France)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Edinburgh 6-20 Cardiff Blues
In a slovenly opening quarter it was Edinburgh Rugby who took the lead via the boot of fly-half Jaco van der Walt as he slotted a penalty kick, but Cardiff Blues soon grew into the game.
Two minutes later, a speculative cross-field kick from Evans was seized upon in the in-goal area by the sliding hands of flanker Jenkins and with the conversion Cardiff took a four-point lead.
Danny Wilson's Blues tightened their grip on the fixtures on the half-hour mark as winger Scully produced a fine display of pace and power as he forced his way through the Edinburgh Rugby defence to slide home a second Cardiff try and a brilliant Evans conversion extended the lead to 11 points at the interval.
Jaco van der Walt trimmed the Edinburgh Rugby deficit to eight points shortly after the restart, but his opposite number Evans continued to add to his tally with a three-pointer of his own two minutes later.
Cardiff Blues moved two converted scores ahead when Evans chalked up his second penalty kick of the evening, but Edinburgh Rugby were given hope when try-scorer Jenkins was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.
However, Edinburgh Rugby were unable to make their personnel advantage pay as Cardiff Blues offered a stoic defensive effort, led by Heineken Man of the Match Josh Navidi - who completed 18 of 19 tackles - as the visitors progressed to the final four of the Challenge Cup.
Pens: Van der Walt 2
Tries: Jenkins, Scully
Cons: Evans 2
Pens: Evans 2
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 John Hardie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Fraser McKenzie (c), 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Jordan Lay
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Phil Burleigh
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 George Earle, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c)
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Macauley Cook, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz (France), Thomas Charabas (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)