Perpignan 18 Gloucester 36
Gloucester stormed into the quarterfinals of the Amlin Challenge Cup and a trip to Wasps at the beginning of April after completing their mission impossible in France.
The odds were stacked against the Cherry and Whites, who required a bonus-point win at Stade Aime Giral to have any chance of qualification.
But they delivered in emphatic fashion as Jonny May, Shane Monahan, Charlie Sharples and Ben Morgan all crossed in the five-try rout.
Exeter Chiefs’ slender victory over Cardiff Blues ensured the door was left ajar for the Cherry and Whites but they had it all to do at the Bull Ring.
Nigel Davies made two changes to the side that lost to Munster with Rob Cook preferred to Martyn Thomas at full-back and Huia Edmonds coming in for the injured Darren Dawidiuk.
And while a maximum points haul in France was an incredibly tall order, Gloucester proved it was not an insurmountable one as they booked an away quarter-final against London Wasps.
The Cherry and White pack once again fronted up in the face of their formidable opponents and in Gareth Evans, Dan Robson and a rejuvenated Freddie Burns the 8-9-10 axis controlled affairs with aplomb.
Burns’ departure from Kingsholm was finally confirmed last week and it was clearly a huge weight off his shoulders as he produced a performance near to his best.
He played the corners expertly when needed and released Gloucester’s red-hot backs, who scored four of the five tries.
The victory was Gloucester’s first Heineken Cup triumph in Perpignan and their first win in France since beating Bourgoin in 2007.
The Catalan outfit made a bruising start to the encounter and both Matt Kvesic and Burns took heavy blows, the latter being penalised for his failure to roll away.
Tom Ecochard slotted the simple ensuing penalty but Gloucester showed plenty of intent with Jonny May a particular threat in attack.
A trademark Dan Robson chip and chase caused the French outfit problems but they ran their way out of trouble thanks to Watisoni Votu and some sublime offloading.
But a thunderous Gareth Evans tackle on Tommaso Benvenuti set the tone and Gloucester snatched a try against the run of play thanks to May, who did his England chances a world of good with a sensational finish.
Perpignan centre Sione Piukala spilt the ball in attack and May pounced, beating several defenders in a 60-metre dash, including Romain Taofifenua and Benvenuti who collided in comical fashion.
Burns pushed his conversion attempt wide and the lead did not last long as Perpignan came storming back.
They piled into Gloucester with their giant ball carriers making real inroads before the ball was spread through Sofiane Guitoune and David Marty to allow Piukala to cross with alarming ease.
Ecochard added the conversion to hand the hosts a 10-5 advantage but the score-line continued to swing.
After securing a rare scrum penalty, Gloucester turned down a shot at goal and kicked to the corner.
They went through several phases with Matt Cox coming agonisingly close to the whitewash but possession was maintained and the ball spread through the hands of May and Cook to send Monahan over in the opposite corner.
Burns expertly converted from the touchline and Ecochard struck the uprights in reply after Cook was penalised for taking a man out without the ball.
And within a matter of minutes Gloucester broke out for a sensational try which was met with chants of “can we see this every week” from the travelling Cherry and White faithful.
Evans was the architect of the score bursting out of his own half with the ball in hand and out pacing the inside defence. He drew Joffrey Michel before feeding Sharples, who tumbled over despite the best efforts of Benvenuti.
Burns was once again on target as the Cherry and White entered the interval with a nine-point lead in tow.
That was quickly reduced to six as Ecochard struck within a minute of the restart.
Gloucester again turned down their own shots at goal and opted for the corner and they were penalised for accidental offside at the rolling maul.
But in a sign of how far the set-piece has come in recent weeks, the pack forced a penalty at the scrum and they returned to the corner.
There was no mistake this time and the pack rumbled forward with a succession of pick and drives before Robson fired a long pass to Monahan, who stepped inside Benvenuti to score.
Burns dissected the posts from wide once again to give Gloucester a 26-13 lead but the game was far from over as the Catalans battled back thanks to Chateau.
Perpignan hit the post once again from the conversion but the try set up a nervy closing period for a Gloucester side that has let victories slip away all too easily this season.
But the Cherry and Whites showed plenty of resilience and Burns pulled the strings to keep Perpignan pinned back before slotting a scrappy drop-goal to keep the scoreboard ticking.
George Jgenti was sent to the sin-bin in the closing stages and Gloucester took advantage of their numerical supremacy as they steamrolled Perpignan at an attacking scrum to allow Morgan to crash over and Burns to convert. Fitting reward for a forward pack that laid the foundations for the victory with a colossal performance.
Perpignan: J Michel (N Durand 54, J Torfs 76); T Benvenuti, D Marty (Capt.), S Piukala, W Votu; S Guitoune (L Mafi 60), T Ecochard; S Taofifenua (G Jgenti 47), R Terrain (M Delonca 63), P Ion (S Taumalolo 47), D Leo (J-P Perez 54), R Taofifenua (A Strokosch 30), J Purll, L Narraway, K Chateau.
Scorers: Tries– S Piukala, K Chateau; Con – T Ecochard; Pens – T Ecochard (2)
Gloucester Rugby: R Cook; C Sharples, J May, B Twelvetrees (capt), S Monahan; F Burns, D Robson (J Cowan 65); Y Thomas (D Murphy 60), H Edmonds (D George 52), S Puafisi (S Knight 60), E Stooke, J Hudson (W James 63), M Cox (S Kalamafoni 52), M Kvesic, G Evans (B Morgan 65)
Tries: J May, S Monahan (2), C Sharples, B Morgan; Cons – F Burns (4); DG – F Burns