Gloucester virtually sealed their European Champions Cup spot for next season with a hard-fought 36-23 victory over London Irish at Kingsholm. A victory for Irish would have seen them in a position to challenge Gloucester for that place but the hosts’ bonus-point victory put them twelve points clear of ninth-placed Irish with only four games remaining.

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Gloucester’s tries came from Ollie Thorley, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jack Stanley, Stephen Varney and Lloyd Evans with Evans adding a penalty and two conversions. Billy Twelvetrees also converted two. Irish responded with tries from Ollie Hassell-Collins and Agustin Creevy with Paddy Jackson kicking three penalties and two conversions.

Jackson gave Irish a fourth-minute lead with a simple penalty but an error from him handed Gloucester the opening try. On halfway, the fly-half threw a speculative pass which Jake Polledri intercepted before feeding Evans, who raced 40 metres to score.

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Evans converted but Gloucester conceded their third penalty in the opening 12 minutes for Jackson to reduce the arrears. A poor kick from Hassell-Collins cost the visitors 60 metres to give Gloucester a platform in the Irish 22 from where Evans kicked a penalty to give his side a 10-6 advantage at the end of an evenly-contested first quarter.

Irish then had a good chance to open their try-scoring account when scrum-half Nick Phipps spotted an opening on the blindside. His long pass found Albert Tuisue, with the No8 looking set to threaten the try line until he lost possession in the tackle.

The visitors received a blow when prop Sekope Kepu was forced off with a leg injury and they soon suffered another setback when an excellent round of passing from the Gloucester backs saw Jason Woodward provide Thorley with an easy run-in.

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Irish needed a score to keep in contention and after declining two kickable penalties, they picked up their first try when they stole possession in the home 22 for Blair Cowan to provide Hassell-Collins with the scoring pass. Jackson converted but Gloucester still led 17-13 at the interval.

Within eight minutes of the restart, the home side lost two players through injury. First Woodward limped off with a hamstring problem before Ed Slater was withdrawn following a hefty collision and lengthy treatment. The injuries disrupted the hosts and allowed Irish to dominate and their pressure was rewarded when veteran hooker Creevy finished off a driving lineout.

Irish looked favourites for victory, but Gloucester regrouped and from a lineout inside the visitors 22, a pre-planned routine gave Rees-Zammit the opportunity to run outside Hassell-Collins and score. The hosts were rejuvenated and secured the bonus point when replacement prop Stanley forced his way over from close range for the bonus-point try.

Twelvetrees converted before Jackson kicked his third penalty to set up a tense finish but Varney’s late try ensured victory and leave Gloucester poised to feature in the 2020/21 Champions Cup.

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