Gloucester Rugby: Magical Jonny May sets Kingsholm alight
THE KINGSHOLM heart beats that bit faster for the top European ties, especially under lights. The blood pounds through the veins round Gloucester's proud old ground, somehow heightening all the sights, sounds and colours.
Jonny May cannot quite fathom the floodlight effect – but he will do whatever it takes to play his part in the classic Kingsholm nights.
A heavy blow to the head in the first half left him as dazed as the atmosphere.
But the 23-year-old said there was no chance of him leaving the field.
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Good thing too, because it was his barnstorming late try that turned the tide.
Ryan Mills' deliciously delayed pass gave the Perpignan defence pause, and that half-second hiatus was all speedster May needed to blast home.
May and all within the Kingsholm cauldron thought he had nailed the winner four minutes earlier – only for the television match official to rule a forward pass in the build-up.
Mike Tindall's pass to Rob Cook in the penultimate phase was a hairline beyond lateral, leaving May unhappy – but unfazed.
And Jimmy Cowan had what looked a perfectly good try chalked off by TMO Tim Hayes at the first-half's death.
Had Gloucester lost out to two tries that never were, it would have been another day of wasted half-chances.
Luckily for the Cherry and Whites, both Cowan and May brushed off their disallowed scores – and registered finishes not even the officials could dispute.
'Night to remember' said May – no thanks to that pesky dizzy spell.
"I thought the first one was 100 per cent a try, but I forgot about that rule where they can drag it back as long as they want," exclaimed May. "And that ruined it for me!
"It probably was forward, but I don't like that rule and they should probably bin it off.
"But we got our just deserts , we wanted it more and we kept building.
"We had the greater tempo, we were the team going out there to win the game and they were the team trying to hold on.
"That's credit to us for throwing the kitchen sink at them, and it paid off.
"I definitely can't really remember much about that bang in the first half, I was a bit dazed, but I was desperate not to come off.
"It was one of the special Kingsholm occasions. I love Heineken Cup rugby, the French teams, under lights at home. It's a great opportunity to get stuck into them, so I was never coming off if I could avoid it.
"It's exciting as a player to get out under lights, I think the fans know that too, and European rugby is definitely a step up in standard.
"That was refreshing for us, the chance to express ourselves on the biggest stage after a mixed start in the league.
"These are the nights to remember."
For the second time in three weeks Gloucester got off to the worst possible start.
Just as Newcastle raided a first-minute try when Gloucester edged home 22-16 in the North East, so Perpignan plundered a rapid-fire start here.
James Hook slipped home after Camille Lopez's crossfield chip caught Gloucester unawares, Wandile Mjekevu sending the Welsh full-back over.
Freddie Burns' illness left Billy Twelvetrees at fly-half, with Ryan Mills promoted to inside centre.
Twelvetrees kicked goals with ease, matching Hook's tidy record off the tee.
Gloucester even handled Perpignan's massive forward pack's tight work – to hit back in style after such a lacklustre offering in the previous week's 29-12 Exeter defeat.
But the profligate finishing was still on show, with knock-ons spoiling half-chances after good work from both James Simpson-Daniel and Twelvetrees.
May was held up over the line after Twelvetrees' slide-rule grubber.
And then Cowan thought he had nipped home from a five-metre quick-tap free kick.
The good old TMO immediately came into play, and the big screens clearly showed Cowan grounding the ball.
Inexplicably, the score was ruled out.
No time in the half left to press, Twelvetrees slotted his third penalty, to leave Gloucester trailing 13-9 at the interval.
Failure to convert that half-chance hatful looked ominous.
But rugby's eternal laws seem to bend to Gloucester's will when the skies darken and the lights come on.
Cowan barrelled home with a copycat quick-tap just four minutes into the second half.
Another night where the All Black truly earned his keep.
Perpignan scrum-half Nicolas Durand was sin-binned for killing the ball on his own line.
Wing Sofiane Guitoune stepped into the half-back breach for a five-metre scrum – only to concede a free kick for feeding.
Former Otago Highlander Cowan tapped and was over before Guitoune could stop remonstrating.
Perpignan rallied, Luke Narraway and Alasdair Strokosch leading a 14-man fightback on their first Kingsholm return.
Hook slotted two more penalties and a sumptuous 45-metre drop-goal from deep in the pocket.
Gloucester lost Matt Kvesic to the sin-bin, which destabilised their otherwise-impressive scrummaging.
Once back to full complement though, the Cherry and Whites blasted Perpignan off the ball for a scrum penalty that Twelvetrees converted.
Three points down with 15 minutes to play, May raced down the right flank and soared to a swallow-dive finish…only for Tindall's pass a phase earlier to be called forward after review. May only needed four minutes – and that fine delayed pass from Mills – to set the record straight, and guide Gloucester to victory.
Mills' shrewd try-making pass is all the more impressive given he was upended dangerously by counterpart Lifeimi Mafi moments earlier.
The bruising Perpignan centre was sent off for his spear tackle in a review after May's try that counted.
Nervy moments ensued as Gloucester ground down the clock – until Twelvetrees blasted a penalty on the final whistle to rubber-stamp the win.
Lambasted just a week earlier for their soft centre, Gloucester's pack delivered with heart, tenacity and guile.
A European night to underline just why and how Kingsholm gets under the skin.
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Cowan (44), May (74) Cons: Twelvetrees 2 (44, 74) Pens: Twelvetrees 5 (10, 17, 40, 65, 80).
PERPIGNAN: Tries: Hook (1) Cons: Hook (2) Pens: Hook 4 (21, 36, 49, 53), Drop-goals: Hook (62).
RED CARDS: PERPIGNAN: Mafi (74)
YELLOW CARDS: GLOUCESTER: Kvesic (52). PERPIGNAN: Durand (43)
REFEREE: Leighton Hodges (WRU).