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).
Speaking to the local media this week, John Afoa described the hard work that the Cherry and White have been putting in and that he is fighting fit ready for Saturday's European Rugby Challenge Cup semi final clash with Exeter Chiefs.
Gloucester Rugby face Exeter Chiefs this Saturday in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final, and Charlie Sharples, who starts at full back is relishing the challenge of the big Kingsholm occasion.
Gloucester meet the Exeter Chiefs for the fourth time in competitive action this weekend, this time in the semi-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Director of Rugby David Humphreys told the local media this week that this is the sort of game that Gloucester want to be involved in on a regular basis and that he and his team are looking forward to it.
Following the 29-26 loss to Harlequins, club captain Billy Twelvetrees spoke of his disappointment that the Cherry and Whites were unable to cash in on the home side's indiscipline and lose a lead on Saturday afternoon.
Number eight Gareth Evans admitted to a collective feeling of frustration as Gloucester lost narrowly at Harlequins on Saturday, but insisted that there are plenty of positives to draw upon ahead of next Saturday's European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Exeter.
Gloucester travel to the Stoop on Saturday afternoon to take on Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership. The Cherry and Whites make just two changes from last weekend's win over Connacht as they seek consistency and continuity in their play as Nick Walshe told the local media this week.
Gloucester Rugby qualified for their first European final since 2006 as they defeated the in-form Exeter Chiefs by 30 points to 19 in a thrilling semi-final at Kingsholm on Saturday evening. The club photographer caught the best of the action.
Recent meetings between these two teams have often been thrillers, and this was no exception. It went down to the final few minutes, but Gloucester produced the goods when it mattered to qualify for the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final, beating Exeter 30-19.
Supporters who are still to purchase tickets for Saturday's European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm (kick off 7:45pm) are reminded that Early Bird prices are only valid until 6:30pm on Thursday evening.