Gloucester moved to the top of Pool Three in the LV=Cup with a comfortable bonus-point victory over Leeds Carnegie at Headingley.
Gloucester’s defeat here on New Year’s Day had given Leeds their only domestic win of the campaign to date, but there seemed little chance of a repeat as tries from Lesley Vainikolo and Tom Voyce plus a conversion and penalty from Freddie Burns gave the visitors a 15-9 lead, with Ceiron Thomas kicking three penalties for the hosts.
Burns further extended Gloucester’s lead with another penalty and, despite a fine try for Leeds from Scott Mathie, Nick Wood and Tim Molenaar crossed to give the west-country side the extra point and leave them knowing a win over London Irish next weekend will put them into the semi-finals for the third year running.
Leeds handed starts to hooker Phil Nilsen and flanker Jacob Rowan, with Steve Thompson and Hendre Fourie away with England. Lachlan Mackay started at fly-half as Thomas switched to full-back. Gloucester retained just Voyce, Burns, Akapusi Qera and Will James from their win over Agen, while Scotland lock Jim Hamilton returned after breaking his foot on international duty in November.
The Cherry and Whites made the best possible start as Leeds conceded a scrum after failing to gather the kick-off. The ball was moved wide by fly-half Burns and Vainikolo stepped through some feeble tackling to touch down for an unconverted try inside two minutes.
Despite that poor start, the home side enjoyed the better of the opening quarter without threatening the visitors’ line, but Thomas put them on the board with an 18th-minute penalty after Olivier Azam was penalised for coming offside at a maul.
But Gloucester’s five-point lead was quickly re-established after a lovely offload from Qera set up a simple penalty chance which Burns knocked over. Leeds stepped up the pressure as a concerted attack saw prop Mick MacDonald bundled into touch just short of the line and a sharp counter-attack soon after yielded another penalty, Thomas again hitting the target.
For all that pressure, Gloucester looked the sharper in attack and a lovely chip and regather by Burns created their second try in the 33rd minute. The outside-half’s offload found flanker Alasdair Strokosch, and winger Voyce burst through a sleeping home defence to score under the posts, Burns adding the extras to make it 15-6.
However, Thomas did trim the lead with his third penalty on the stroke of the interval after a cynical piece of defending by Hamilton to end the opening half. The standard barely improved after the interval altough a powerful Gloucester scrum saw MacDonald cave in and concede a penalty which Burns slotted with 25 minutes to play.
The Yorkshire side hit back with a good spell of concerted pressure with back-row Rhys Oakley making some useful ground, but MacDonald could not find Thomas with the final pass. And their pressure finally paid off as they scored a try completely out of keeping with the rest of the contest.
Mackay made a scything break from deep and found Mike Stephenson as he fell to deck. The winger in turn found lock Kearnan Myall before Scott Barrow sent replacement scrum-half Mathie behind the sticks. Thomas converted to set up a tense final 15 minutes.
Gloucester were dealt a further blow when Vainikolo was helped off with an arm injury but they responded as replacement prop Wood rumbled over from a line-out to all but seal the win as Nicky Robinson added the conversion. Centre Molenaar then brushed off some weak tackling for the fourth try as Leeds were eliminated from the competition.