Gloucester 32-31 Coventry Rugby
Led by an outstanding display from Will Chudley, Coventry went within seconds of claiming a famous Premiership Rugby Cup round five win at Gloucester.
Alex Rae’s team trailed 27-12 at the hour mark only for the arrival of their bench to trigger a brilliant fourth-quarter comeback.
A golden 12-minute spell produced tries for George Smith, Will Wand and Ryan Hutler plus two Evan Mitchell conversions and with Gloucester’s experienced starters by now largely sat on the sidelines, with five minutes remaining Cov were four points to the good.
But the visitors’ scrum had been under pressure throughout the contest and when they were penalized for an eighth time the Cherry-and-Whites had no hesitation in going to the corner.
Cov then lost replacement hooker Suva Ma’asi to the sinbin for collapsing a maul after which the visitors spread play wide to send Jack Reeves racing to the corner for the match-clinching score.
Gloucester’s fourth try – scored by official man-of-the-match Jack Clement – had by then already clinched the solitary bonus point required to clinch the one available semi-final spot.
But despite being denied five points by the final play of the game, having already beaten Saracens and drawn with Harlequins earlier in the competition, Cov enter their Championship campaign buoyed by three superb displays against top-flight opposition.
In front of a good-sized Kingsholm crowd unbeaten Coventry struck first when Chudley spotted a gap eight metres out and wriggled over for a try which Mitchell upgraded.
But Gloucester soon struck twice with carbon-copy scores created by midfield breaks and finished first by Louis Hillman-Cooper then Alex Hearle.
Scotland international no.10 Adam Hastings converted the second of these before limping off and it was Cov flyer Jimmy Martin who raced past the cover, gathered Mitchell’s precise kick and forced his way over in contact that next troubled the scorers.
Gloucester’s front row were already finding plenty of favour with referee Walbaum and the home side soon shunted Clement over for his first try from a close-range lineout that followed a midfield scrum penalty.
The visitors pressed hard at the start of the second half and Gloucester were fortunate to escape a yellow card after twice killing the ball on their own line.
But the hosts kept their line intact and went on to extend their lead through replacement fly half George Barton’s simple penalty and his conversion of Clement’s long-range score – the try which clinched their progress to the final four.
With both benches emptied it was the Championship side who dominated the fourth quarter which began with the towering figure of Smith going over from close range.
Mitchell converted and Cov were almost immediately within three-point range of their hosts after prolific winger Hutler finished a good blindside move begun by Chudley and continued by the outstanding James Tyas.
Unbelievably visiting centre Will Wand almost immediately claimed his side’s fifth try with a neat diagonal finish following good continuity and Mitchell’s conversion put Cov four points ahead.
However, Cov’s replacement hooker then went to the bin and with finger nails by now bitten to the quick, the noisy Blue-and-White contingent around Kingsholm had their hearts broken when Reeves raced to the corner.
Gloucester Rugby: Evans; Hearle, Hillman-Cooper, Atkinson, Thorley; Hastings, Chapman; Ford-Robinson, McGuigan, Gotovtsev; Clarke, Thomas; Clement, Taylor, Mercer.
Replacements: Singleton, Rapava-Ruskin, Balmain, Clark, Jordan, Jones, Barton, Reeves
Coventry Rugby: James; Hutler; Wand, Rigg, Martin; Mitchell, Chudley; Trinder, Poole, Salt; Tyas, Anstey; Ryan, Kvesic, Nayalo.
Replacements: Ma’asi, Chilvers, Ford, Smith, Ball, Ogden, Titherington, Bartlett
Referee: Harry Walbaum
Half-time: Gloucester 17-12 Coventry Rugby
Tries: Hillmann-Cooper (7), Hearle (14), Clement (34) (58), Reeves (79)
Cons: Hastings (14), Barton (58)
Pens: Barton (56)
Tries: Chudley (3), Martin (31), Smith (63), Hutler (71), Wand (75)
Cons: Mitchell (3) (63) (75)