AndreLa Rochelle and Gloucester faced each other during the pool stages. When Gloucester played at home they came out victorious by 35-14. However, when La Rochelle were at home, they took the spoils with a 42 points to 13 win over the Cherry and Whites. The Frenchman are top of the Top 14 and have not lost a home game all season. It was set to be a crunching battle and with all the odds against Gloucester, surely they could not win…?
Gloucester and Billy Burns started well. The young fly-half struck two penalties to edge Gloucester ahead within the first 20 minutes.
La Rochelle were then put down to 14 men when Jone Qovu Nailiko forced his elbow in Willi Heinz’s chest. It was completley cynical and very dangerous but the Fijian was very lucky to only be shown yellow.
The men in red nearly extended their lead when David Halaifonua linked up with Jeremy Thrush. The Kiwi then found Henry Trinder who pinned his ears back. Arthur Retiere did manage to cover back though a nailed Trinder into touch. If it wasn’t for the try saving tackle, the home side would have been in bit of trouble.
With 5 minutes left of the half, Gloucester were then put down to 14 men. Tom Savage cleared out a ruck with force and potentially no arms. The contact was big which made it look very bad but it was just a very good clear out. However the referee, Andrew Brace, thought differently and showed the second row a controversial yellow card. Brock James also struck the resulting penalty.
It was an absoultley bruising encounter with few points. James levelled the scores up just before halftime to add to the tension and energy of the crowd.
Billy Burns had been great and he slotted a penalty to edge Gloucester ahead again but wat came next was pure class. La Rochelle were on the attack until Brock James flung a wide pass out. Burns leaped high and plucked the ball out the sky on his own 22. The fly half then used every single bit of energy he had left in the tank. When he crossed the line all the travelling support and the replacements went wild! The Cherry and Whites took a massive leap towards Edinburgh!
La Rochelle refused to lie down though and after James struck another penalty, it was the forwards turn to have a crack at the try. Gloucester’s defence was great for about 10 minutes as the Frenchman battered away. However, they could not hold out for long enough and replacement Damien Lagrange burrowed over. James had to convert to tie the scores level. He kick had alot of curl and spun off wide.
La Rochelle kept on battering until James hit a loopy drop goal that faded wide again. It wasn’t quite over though and Brock James was presented with another chance; this time a penalty. Yet again the Kiwi sliced the kick and it sailed wide again!
It took power and resiliance but eventually the referee blew his wistle for full time much to the elation of the Gloucester players. They had been rewarded for winning a grueling match with a spot in the European Challenge Cup final!