GLOUCESTER'S Guinness A League dreams are still alive - after they gained a losing bonus point against London Irish last night.
Following their 12-7 defeat, Glocuester are now two points behind leaders Harlequins - who are their last opponents in the southern conference.
If Quins fail to beat Saracens on Monday April 3, Gloucester can still progress to the final should they beat Harlequins away on Monday, April 10.
Despite the best efforts and the galvanising effects of skipper Mark Cornwell, Gloucester had only Terry Fanolua's second half try to show for their hard labour against a durable and hard working London Irish side.
In dreadful conditions and constant rain in the second half, Gloucester tried desperately to cancel out first half scores from Rodd Penney and Dominic Feau'nati but struggled to clear possession quickly enough from the base of the scrum to be ever become truly effective against a damaging defensive unit.
The Irish won because their big men kept hold of the ball and drove it well throughout. They always made ground over the advantage line and built a lead that proved too great for Gloucester to drag pack.
In the first-half, Irish's game plan was simple. They played for plenty of territory on the back of the strong wind - turning Gloucester's back three - who had plenty of counter-running against the breeze.
Although London Irish, through the efforts of former Perpignan number eight Phil Murphy and a front row containing Adam Halsey and Adrian Flavin kept the pressure on in close quarters, Gloucester looked the more dangerous team with ball in hand.
A couple of heavy-duty carries from Fanolua and a some nifty footwork by scrum-half James Donovan always hinted at a possible score, while openside Tom Rawlins hit well above his weight in the contact area and James Parkes got through plenty of work, but it was the Irish who took the lead after half and hour.
They maintained possession long enough to set themselves in Gloucester territory and from a line-out 20 metres out, centre Penney cut a lovely angle on the switch to score very well by the foot of the left post. Stand-off Shane Geraghty added the extras for a 7-0 lead.
After weathering the early pressure, it was a disappointing score for Gloucester to concede and right on the interval matters got worse when winger Feau'nati found himself beneath a pile of bodies to score following more damaging pressure.
Geraghty missed the conversion but the 12-0 lead was still considerable given the conditions. Gloucester were conscious not to rely on the breeze in the second half but got bogged down at scrum-time and couldn't clear possession quickly enough to make the best use of Fanolua and Rudi Keil in midfield.
But After Donovan had scampered a few yards from a line-out on half-way, number eight Leo Halavatau made good ground and found Fanolua who had a clear run to the line. Brad Davies added the extras to leave Gloucester trailing by five points with 30 minutes remaining.
However, the Irish dug in and although they were forced to defend for long periods, kept their cool under pressure to repel a series of Gloucester attacks. Having battled fiercely to find the equalising try, the Irish ended the contest on the attack to complete a Guinness A League double over the Kingsholm side.
GLOUCESTER: P. Swatkins (K. Palm 60); R. Thirlby, R. Keil, T. Fanolua, M. Nuttall; B. Davies, J. Donovan, E. Lewis (R. Siglet 23), J. Parkes, A. Walker, Q. Davids (L. Tonkins 68), M. Cornwell (capt), C. Jones (M. George 60), T. Rawlins, L. Halavatau.
Scorers: Tries: Fanolua. Cons: B. Davies (1)
LONDON IRISH: J. Bishop, D. Feau'nati, R. Penney, P. Franze, C. Mezger (C. Gower); S. Geraghty, D. Edwards; A. Halsey, A. Flavin, T. Warren, G. Johnson, M. Banahan (J. Fisher 74), C. Cracknell, R. Thorpe, P. Murphy (M. Blackburn 30).
Scorers: Tries: Penney, Feau'nati. Cons: Geraghty (1).
Fly-half Billy Burns was named Man of the Match after the 35-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup victory over Stade Rochelais on Thursday evening, and was full of praise for all his team mates for the win after a short turnaround.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.