WHILE London Irish may have had the satisfaction of scoring first and last in its final home match of this season's Guinness A League competition last night at Sunbury, it was what happened in between that determined the result.
The scoring action between the 14th and 71st minutes was dominated by Gloucester and one man in particular, Lucovic Mercier as the Kingsholm men eased to a 37-15 victory.
The former French A international scored 22 of his team's 37 points in a display that had all the hallmarks of an experienced, top class out-half. When he was not scoring points Mercier showed his skill with a flawless display of tactical kicking that repeatedly forced the Exiles to retreat and his running game continually gave his speedy backs valuable forward momentum.
Irish competed well in a hectic first half and scored first through Gary Johnson, the powerful lock forward drove over for his try in the right corner. Ed Lewis-Pratt missed the difficult conversion.
Gloucester responded from the re-start by driving into the Irish half and flanker Jamie Vervon broke clear to score just left of the posts. Mercier added the extras to give his team a lead they were to build on for the next 42 minutes.
Mercier stretched the lead with two penalties in the 28th and 34th minutes as sustained pressure by the visitors' forced Irish to defend deep.
The outcome of the game was decided in a three minute spell either side of half-time when Gloucester scored two tries. The first touch down came in the 40th minute through left wing Dan Norton. The second came two minutes after the re-start when Mercier intercepted a pass thirty metres from his own try line and ran straight downfield to score under the Irish posts. He added both conversions to make the score 5-27 to Gloucester.
Five minutes later the Frenchman kicked his third penalty of the game to stretch the lead to 25 points. Justin Bishop was tireless in encouraging his young backs to attack and while he had good support from a hard-working pack, the home team struggled to breakthrough a well organised defence.
Gloucester secured a try bonus point with their fourth try in the 58th minute when Norton touched down for his second of the evening. Mercier added the conversion.
Irish's never say die attitude was rewarded by two tries in the final quarter through replacement flanker Bradley Mockford in the 64th minute and prop Tom Warren in the 71st minute. Both touchdowns were in the right corner leaving Lewis-Pratt with two difficult touchline conversion attempts which drifted wide.
The Exiles continued to take the game to Gloucester through the final minutes but failed to add to their score.
London Irish A: J Bishop (captain), D Howells (rep: L Southey, 62), C Gower, M Humphries, N Canty, E Lewis-Pratt (rep: B Willis, 71), T Parker (rep: R Rees, 40), D Murphy (rep: K Davis, 66), S Mackie (rep: T Standfield, 61), T Warren, G Johnson, L Cudmore (rep: S Gaynor, 71), D Danaher, H Rowlands (sin-bin: 28-38)(rep: B Mockford, 40), R Thorpe.
Gloucester A: J Goodridge (rep: J Copsey, 69), M Foster, R Keil, B Davies (captain), D Norton (rep: J O'Brien, 74), L Mercier, H Thomas (rep: J Williams, 40), J Brookes (rep: C Derrick, 75), R McMillan (rep: R Elloway, 62), J Forster (rep: B Lynch, 73), D Miller (sin-bin: 13-23)(rep: D Wright, 73), D Tuohy, J Vevron (sin-bin: 62-72), J Hooper (rep: B Foden, 62), E Uzonigwe.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees told GRTV after the win in Brive that the game could have been a tough one to get up for, but that his Gloucester team mates did themselves proud on the night and got a big result.
Reflecting on the 31-20 victory in Brive on Thursday evening, Director of Rugby David Humphreys said that clinching a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final was the overall aim and duly achieved.
Gloucester may have already clinched a home European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys wants his side to finish the pool stages on a winning note in Brive on Thursday evening.
Speaking after Saturday's win, James Hudson was happy to record a bonus-point win against a hugely physical Oyonnax side as Gloucester secured their passage into the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Finals
Billy Burns was a try scorer on his first European start for Gloucester and, speaking after the game, admitted that it was good to get the five points although there are still things to work on before the trip to Brive.
Gloucester Rugby have added to their front row strength in depth for next season with the signings of Paul Doran-Jones, Paddy McAllister and Nicky Thomas from Harlequins, Aurillac and the Ospreys respectively.
Connacht's 30-20 win in La Rochelle on Saturday evening means that they are the third best placed runners up and will come to Kingsholm for the quarter-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup in early April.