Gloucester Rugby: Stubborn United book place in A League semi-finals
GLOUCESTER UNITED 30 NORTHAMPTON WANDERERS 24
STUBBORN Gloucester fended off a second-half fight back to secure their place in the A League semi-finals, thanks to two smart tries from impish wing Ian Clark.
The 20-year-old flyer bagged a first-half brace that gave United hope of the victory they needed to land a place in the last four.
Further scores from Tommaso d’Apice and Elliot Stooke plundered a bonus-point to add to the win, ensuring Gloucester finished second in the A League’s Northern Conference.
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Despite losing out at Kingsholm, Northampton topped that pool, by virtue of their try-scoring and losing bonus points salvaged from this defeat.
Alex Day, Noah Cato, Tom Collins and Matt Williams grabbed the tries that kept Northampton top of the Northern pile, with full-back Cato making light of a first-half sin-binning to battle back well.
United will have to wait until next week to find out who they will face in the last four, but the fixture should be held in mid-December.
The home side powered into a 23-12 half-time lead, but were forced to defend for the majority of the third quarter.
Hitting back at the break allowed Andrew Stanley and Rob Thirlby’s side to grind out another impressive victory though.
And this United side certainly warrant progression to the competition’s knockout stages.
Gloucester’s bright start was rewarded with a penalty from Taylor that opened the scoring.
The Wanderers rallied but United held on – thanks chiefly to a try-saving tackle from full-back Kai Done.
Good work from wings Ian Clark and Steph Reynolds forced United back onto the front foot – and from an attacking lineout the home side struck.
A textbook driving maul later, and hooker d’Apice grabbed the game’s first try.
Taylor converted, and Gloucester were quickly back on the attack, with the former Nottingham playmaker doubling his penalty tally.
A smart Billy Burns grubber turned the visiting defence – to the point where full-back Cato knew he was losing the footrace.
The former Saracens speed man pulled back George Boulton, and duly walked for ten minutes in the sin-bin.
A one-man disadvantage did not dent the visitors’ spirit though, and the Wanderers hit back through scrum-half Day.
Fly-half Hooley cut the line and found himself with runners on either shoulder.
Scott Armstrong carried on the attack and drew the last man, sending Day clean home.
Hooley’s conversion had Northampton hoping for a fight back, but Gloucester plundered another try, thanks to two cross-field kicks in the same move.
Reynolds claimed the first, his wing counterpart Clark the second – and the Bristol-born 20-year-old rolled home for Gloucester’s second try.
An arcing line-break from Ben Nutley forced Northampton’s immediate reply, with Cato atoning for his yellow card by sliding home on the left flank.
But just when Gloucester were expecting to turn around slightly disappointed, Clark struck his second score.
Receiving the ball in the Northampton 22 standing still, he stepped round Cato, leaving him for dead, to slide into the corner.
That left Gloucester with a healthy 23-12 lead at the break.
Northampton produced all the pressure at the start of the second half, but Gloucester held out manfully enough.
Had Tom Stephenson fired wide rather than trying to cut the line the Wanderers would have scored though.
And the Cherry and Whites’ second string had to rebuff two-straight driving mauls, followed by a series of threatening Wanderers phases in their own 22.
Wing Collins ensured Saints were rewarded for their dominance though, sliding home after a luck hack through following his chip.
The Wanderers were in command by this stage, Gloucester clinging to their lead.
Replacement scrum-half Brad Field injected a bit of life back into Gloucester though, forcing United out of their own half with two smart touch-finding grubbers.
It was exactly the spark United needed: suddenly the home side were blasting holes again.
And after a series of powerful drives, bullish young lock Stooke bundled home for Gloucester’s bonus-point try.
Taylor’s conversion left the home side in control – and heading for the semi-finals.
Northampton’s replacement hooker Williams crashed over for a try with the game’s last play, that ensured the Wanderers topped the A League Northern Conference.
Hooley landed the conversion, but Gloucester still had the victory they needed to progress to the competition’s last four.
UNITED: Tries: d’Apice (11), Clark 2 (27, 40), Stooke (77) Cons: Taylor (11, 77) Pens: Taylor 2 (2, 14).
WANDERERS: Tries: A Day (25), Cato (37), Collins (64), Williams (80) Cons: Hooley 2 (25, 80).
WANDERERS: Cato (19).
GLOUCESTER UNITED: Kai Done, Steph Reylonds, George Boulton (Graham Speirs, 52), Tim Taylor (capt), Ian Clark, Billy Burns (Brad Field, 65), Dave Lewis, Yann Thomas, Tommaso d’Apice, Dario Chistolini (Tom Heard, 54), Elliott Stooke, Will Graulich (Dale Critchley, 72), Ross Moriarty (Nico Woodward, 78), Tom Ailes (Ben Sparks, 32), Gareth Evans. Unused: James Gibbons, Rob Dempsey.
NORTHAMPTON WANDERERS: Noah Cato, Scott Armstrong, Tom Stephenson, Luther Burrell (Anders Mogensen, 50), Tom Collins, Will Hooley, Alex Day (Ryan Glynn, 68), Ethan Waller (Danny Hobbs, 69), Ross McMillan (Matt Williams, 78), Danny Herriott, Tom Hicks (Jamie Warr, 65), Alex Woolford, Ben Nutley (capt), Teimana Harrison, GJ Van Velze (Mark Hopley, 59). Unused: Tom Rhodes, Alex Wotton.