Spirited fightback not enough for United side in A League semi-final at Harlequins
HARLEQUINS A 40 GLOUCESTER UNITED 19
CLASSY Harlequins outgunned Gloucester United with a three-try first-half salvo to end the Cherry and Whites’ impressive A League run.
Gloucester’s second string could not keep pace with the busy hosts in the opening 40 minutes – and that deluge cost Andrew Stanley and Rob Thirlby’s men a place in the competition’s final.
Yellow cards for Dale Critchley and captain Pete Buxton cut Gloucester down almost before they could get going – and they never recovered.
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Jordan Burns, Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Harry Sloan claimed the unanswered tries that floored United before the break.
And the visitors failed to capitalise on a clutch of strong 22 field position opportunities with inaccurate play.
A manful fightback after the break saw Gloucester blast in scores from Gareth Evans, Shane Monahan and Tommaso d’Apice – the final two in a frenetic last ten minutes.
But Charlie Walker’s try just past the hour, coupled with two Ben Botica penalties – to take his goal tally to four – ensured Quins always kept control of the overall scoreboard.
Not even a sin-binning for Jack Clifford could help Gloucester clamber back into the tie.
But when this United side look back on their run in this competition, they can be proud of their achievement in reaching the semi-final – and upholding the proud traditions of Gloucester’s second string.
Gloucester’s night started exactly as they had not planned.
No sooner had United been pinged for not rolling away in the tackle than Jordan Burns was taking an inside ball off Ben Botica, to grab the game’s first try.
Botica chipped the line shortly afterwards, causing more mayhem in the Gloucester half.
But full-back Lindsay-Hague could not gather cleanly, and the chance was extinguished.
Quins continued to have the edge on proceedings, with Botica extending the lead to 10-0 with a penalty.
The centre missed his second penalty goal shot, but made no mistake with his third effort.
Gloucester were unfortunate not to receive a scrum after a Quins knock-on.
But the hosts continued the attack, and Cinderford lock Critchley was sin-binned after infringement at a ruck.
That handed Botica his chance, and he duly stretched the advantage to 13-0.
Quins then used their man advantage to force a penalty try after a series of five-metre scrums.
After man-light Gloucester folded, Quins struck – with referee David Rose awarding a penalty try when singling out captain Buxton for killing the ball on his tryline.
Two minutes later Quins had their third try – Sloan scuttling home as United struggled in their short sin-bin crossover with just 13 on the field.
Only a timely intervention from replacement Brad Field stopped Seb Stegmann adding a fourth score as the first half drew to a close.
And that helped Gloucester play out the second yellow card without further concession.
The visitors were able to rally right at the half’s death, but a knock-on right on the Quins line put paid to the chance for a try riposte that might have raised hopes for a comeback after the turnaround.
Gloucester started the second half brightly, but could not force a score after Reynolds’ break.
United won a scrum penalty and a chance to strike from the resulting lineout in the Quins 22.
But the Cherry and Whites lost the set-piece, and in a flash the opportunity was gone.
Botica slotted a penalty to keep the ascendancy, but Gloucester quickly had another strike chance when Jack Clifford was sin-binned for purposely playing the ball offside.
A second penalty lineout came to nought though, and another opportunity went begging.
Two more penalties later Gloucester won a lineout five metres from the Harlequins whitewash.
Cox claimed the ball at the tail – but the throw was deemed not straight – and frustrations hit new heights.
But from the resulting scrum good pressure from Cox forced the ball from a ruck, and impressive number eight Evans pounced for a Gloucester try.
Botica hit back straight away with his fourth penalty of the night though, leaving Gloucester chasing four converted tries in the final quarter – just to break even.
Ro Langley thought he was home and dry for the first, but an admittedly clear bout of crossing chalked off the score.
And when wing Walker capped a fine break from captain Ward at the other end for Quins’ fourth score, the tie was most definitely beyond even comeback kings’ Gloucester’s reach.
Monahan flew through to fly-hack home for a pride-maintaining try as the game entered its final stages.
A fine sniping break from Drew Locke blasted Gloucester to the cusp of the Quins line again, but a knock-on in contact scuppered the move.
Moments later though, Italian hooker d’Apice was able to barrel home for a third – and final – Gloucester score.
Despite the fight back Gloucester paid the price for profligate play in both attack and defence in the first half – but can still be proud of an impressive A League run.
Nigel Davies’ decision to put more stall behind these games has paid dividend in the general Kingsholm mood, and certainly helped a number of men state their first-team case.
HARLEQUINS A: Tries: J Burns (2), Penalty (27), Sloan (29), Walker (67). Cons: Botica 2 (2, 27), Clegg 2 (29, 67). Pens: Botica 4 (9, 19, 52, 61).
GLOUCESTER UNITED: Tries: Evans (59), Monahan (73), d’Apice (79). Cons: Taylor 2 (73, 79).
HARLEQUINS A: Clifford (54).
GLOUCESTER UNITED: Critchley (19), Buxton (27).
HARLEQUINS A: O Lindsay-Hague, S Stegmann (M Mantella, 72), H Sloan, B Botica (L Grimoldby, 68), C Walker, R Clegg, J Burns (H Taylor, 53), D Marfo (N Mayhew, 53), R Buchanan (H Allen, 70), K Sinckler, S Twomey (J Chisholm, 65), C Matthews (F Taggart, 70), J Trayfoot, D Ward (capt), J Clifford. Unused: W Collier.
GLOUCESTER UNITED: S Reynolds, I Clark (G Spiers, 78), G Boulton (K Done, 78), D Locke, S Monahan, T Taylor, D Lewis (B Field, 31), Y Thomas, K Britton (T d’Apice, 46), D Chistolini (T Heard, 72), P Buxton (capt), D Critchley (T Ailes, 53), M Cox (A Woodburn, 61), R Langley, G Evans. Unused: J Gibbons.
REFEREE: D Rose (RFU).