There were no New Year´s Eve celebrations for the Tykes, who could find themselves cut at least six points adrift if fellow strugglers Northampton beat Bristol tomorrow. With the league season now at its 11-game halfway point, the clock is ticking on Leeds´ survival hopes.
Although their second-half display had character and commitment written all over it, they never recovered from a dire opening 30 minutes when Gloucester scored three converted tries and Leeds saw hooker Rob Rawlinson and fly-half Gordon Ross sin-binned. At one stage, the Yorkshire club were down to 13 men, and Gloucester, whose victory took them third in the table above London Irish, did not require a second invitation to turn the screw.
Centre James Simpson-Daniel crossed twice for tries and fly-half Ludovic Mercier also touched down, while there was also a penalty try, with Mercier slotting four conversions and a penalty to finish with 16 points. Leeds belatedly recovered through substitute Jordan Crane´s late score, converted by Ross, but Simpson-Daniel´s 86th-minute effort ensured a bonus point, much to the relief of an 11,592 crowd.
Leeds made a miserable start, going 10-0 down inside the opening 16 minutes and seeing Rawlinson and Ross depart. Mercier´s opening penalty got Gloucester up and running, but Leeds could not cope once the home pack gained a scent of their line.
Repeated lineout drives from five metres out were only thwarted by the Tykes illegally pulling down mauls, and referee Rob Debney´s patience predictably snapped as he yellow-carded Rawlinson.
Worse was to come just three minutes later when Debney again reached for his pocket, this time to send Ross packing after his blatant knock-on of Gloucester scrum-half Peter Richards´ pass to wing James Bailey prevented a certain try.
As Ross trudged off, Mercier converted the resulting penalty try, and with Leeds still down to 13 men, Mercier´s opportunism was rewarded with a kick-and-catch touchdown between the posts which he also converted for a 17-0 lead after 21 minutes.
Leeds were a mess, and although Rawlinson returned, Gloucester struck again when Tykes were one man short. Gloucester´s forwards again made headway deep inside Leeds´ 22, and when Tykes inevitably ran out of defensive numbers, Mercier´s rifled pass sent Simpson-Daniel sprinting over.
Mercier´s conversion made it 24-0, and despite Leeds preventing any further Gloucester score before the break, they still trailed by a landslide margin and were in danger of suffering a sobering defeat after their recent mini Premiership revival which produced victories over Bath and Northampton.
Leeds also managed to keep the third quarter scoreless, and their damage-limitation exercise was underlined when rugby director Phil Davies made five substitutions in the 57th minute, sending on centre Chris Bell, prop Mike Shelley, lock Jon Dunbar, flanker Nathan Thomas and number eight Crane.
Tykes were a far more cohesive and organised unit after the break, and Gloucester grew increasingly frustrated in their quest for a try-scoring bonus point.
Gloucester´s England centre Mike Tindall also left the action early after taking a bang to the back of his head – he had earlier received treatment before briefly carrying on – and Leeds bagged a consolation score when Crane crashed over from close range. Crane became a third Leeds sin-binning after he committed a technical offence deep into stoppage time, then Simpson-Daniel´s second score at last secured the extra point.