Ulster let a ten point lead, with only ten minutes left, slip as George Barton crashed over for a last minute winner to end interest in the Champions Cup for Dan McFarland‘s side this season.
The province fought back from a 14-point deficit on 43 minutes to surge into the lead thanks to tries from John Cooney and Michael Lowry.
But Barton clinched the victory for the home side after a sustained period of possession on the Ulster line.
Question marks will be raised over Ulster’s discipline with three men receiving yellow cards while Alexandre Ruiz issued two penalty tries against the away side.
Gloucester (17) 38
TRY: Louis Rees-Zammit, Mark Atkinson, George Barton, Penalty (2)
CON: Lloyd Evans (3)
PEN: Lloyd Evans
Ulster (10) 34
TRY: Billy Burns, Michael Lowry, John Cooney, Penalty
CON: John Cooney (3)
PEN: John Cooney (2)
Gloucester were the first to cross the line through Welsh international Louis Rees-Zammit finishing off a break out after missed tackles from Stuart McCloskey and James Hume. Billy Burns responded with a try against his former side, walking over after an enormous gap appeared in the Glos defence.
Disaster struck when Rob Herring and Alan O’Connor were sin binned for consecutive infringements at the maul with the second one resulting in the first penalty try.
Trailing by only seven points at half time, despite having played ten minutes with only 13 players, Ulster would have been delighted and felt that they had weathered the Gloucester pressure well, allowing them to kick on in the second half. They kept the ball tight with Cooney controlling the forwards and frustrating the home side into conceding penalties with the ten minute period finishing 7-3.
Mark Atkinson stretched the lead to 14 points before Ulster answered with a lovely Michael Lowry try after good work from Cooney and Nick Timoney. Ulster were awarded a penalty try after Rees-Zammit deliberately knocked the ball on before Cooney added ten points of his own to give Ulster a ten point buffer zone.
Ethan McIlroy was the third player to go to the bin, for the same offence as Rees-Zammit, before Barton crossed in the last play of the game.
Not only did Ulster hold a two score lead with less than nine minutes remaining but they also were three points up and had a scrum between the Gloucester 10m and 22m line. Having drained the clock when they were two men down in the first half, a couple of scrum resets followed by three/four phases should have been enough to see the Ulstermen home.
A knock on with less than a minute left handed the ball to the home side and they went the length to win the game. It was a disappointing way to end the game and nobody will be hurting more than the players who left everything out on the pitch.
Gloucester: Kyle Moyle, Charlie Sharples, Chris Harris, Mark Atkinson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Lloyd Evans, Charlie Chapman; Val Rapava-Ruskin, Jack Singleton, Ciaran Knight, Ed Slater, Matias Alemanno, Jordy Reid, Lewis Ludlam, Ruan Ackermann. Replacements: Henry Walker, Alex Seville, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Alex Craig, Seb Nagle-Taylor, Toby Venner, George Barton, Henry Trinder
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matthew Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Where now for Ulster?
Last week I thought Ulster should have won and this week I am positive this was a game Ulster let slip. Despite a poor first half, they had ample chances to tie the game level, with the half ending as Ulster were camped inside the Gloucester 22. The home side hammered Ulster at the maul, something which we haven’t seen too often this season. It’s very difficult to legally stop a maul that has momentum so work must be done to disrupt at the lineout or stop it at source.
It will take a miracle (and a few COVID positive tests) for Ulster to progress to the quarter finals. Challenge Cup rugby also looks unlikely as we have to travel to Toulouse next month.
I can’t see any of the teams below Ulster challenging for the Challenge Cup spots. The three bonus points picked up in the opening rounds gives Ulster an advantage over the rest while I can’t see Harlequins or Connacht picking up two wins each against Munster and Racing, Racing and Bristol respectively.
Even though Ulster still have to go to the Stade Ernest Wallon, the bonus points would put them ahead of Gloucester provided they defeat them in the return fixture.
Clermont have to go to Munster but welcome Bristol where I think they will pick up a win. I expect Exeter to record two wins in their next games, putting them out of reach for Ulster.
PRO14 interprovincial season is the next priority but a bonus point win at home to Gloucester in the next Champions Cup game should be enough for Ulster to take eighth spot as I can’t see Gloucester beating Lyon at home.
It was a game where the officials attracted plenty of post match comment, something part and parcel of the game of rugby.
However, in a week where the devastating results of concussion on former players has hit the headlines there was one incident that is worthy of further comment.
Wth ten minutes to go, Stockdale was on the end of a dangerous collision with hooker Henry Walker. The Gloucester player charged into the maul to take, the offside, Stockdale out with his head. There was no attempt at binding with the arms and his head connected with Stockdale’s back causing injury to both Stockdale and Walker, the latter appearing stunned. Going by the current laws, the penalty should have been reversed. It wasn’t, and Gloucester went up the other end and scored a try.
Law 9.11: A player must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others.
Law 9.20a: A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.Two breaches of the law. 9.20a is a law that referees need to clamp down on in open play.
Will Henry Walker be cited?
No, under the current laws this didn’t warrant anything more than a penalty and possibly a yellow card. Citings only occur when a referee/TMO has missed a possible red card – see the Kieran Treadwell incident against Scarlets. This was not one of those incidents.
However, in the long term, this type of challenge is something that has to be stamped out if the long term damage of concussive injuries is to be addressed. There is no justification for a citing, or making an example of Walker, but World Rugby needs to find a way where this type of contact is eliminated from the game.