Cornwall 33 Gloucestershire 27
Gloucestershire face North Midlands at Bromsgrove on Saturday knowing they need at least a draw to hang on to their top-tier status in the County Championship.
It follows a second successive defeat in this season’s pool stages, despite putting up a tremendous fight against last year’s beaten finalists Cornwall, now coached by former Bath and England hooker Graham Dawe.
Gloucestershire led on three occasions but eventually ran out of time to claw back a 13-point deficit Cornwall established with only 16 minutes of an absorbing contest remaining.
Gloucestershire head coach Paul Morris, who was very disappointed with the performances of the touch judges, said: “It is the third year in a row we have faced a relegation game, so we are used to it.
“The only difference is this is the first time we have faced one of these away from home.
“At least we know we have just got to win the game and don’t have to worry about bonus points.
“Gloucestershire will win this Championship again, and in my opinion we will do so before Cornwall do.
“We are a juggernaut waiting to happen, but at the moment we are slightly behind where we want to be, but we will come again.”
Morris added: “We are as good as any side in this group, but it is results that matter, and we have lost both games so far.
“But I couldn’t be prouder of the players – their work rate, effort and commitment, and for a large part, I thought the skill and the tactical nous they showed was outstanding, and for long periods of the game they out-thought Cornwall.”
If Gloucestershire play like they did against the Duchy, they should not have too many problems retaining their top-flight status.
They made an impressive start and led 6-0 after 15 minutes, thanks to two penalties by winger Leo Fielding, who finished with a 17-point haul.
Cornwall fired back with two tries in the space of four minutes, through winger Tom Notman and scrum-half Greg Goodfellow, with Kieron Lewitt converting one.
However, after both sides had lost a player to the sin-bin – prop Joe Smart for Gloucestershire and Cornwall hooker Jamie Salter in separate incidents– intense pressure on the home line saw hooker Tom Bozzard grab a try, which Fielding converted, to give the visitors a 13-12 interval lead.
Gloucestershire suffered a blow less than two minutes after the restart when Goodfellow sent prop Craig Williams racing in to score, with Lewitt again adding the extras, but once more Morris’s men hit back with a Fielding try which he converted himself.
Disaster struck from the restart, however, as Duchy winger Lewis Vinnicombe charged down a clearance kick to score the bonus-point try, with Lewitt converting to make it 26-20.
Notman’s second try of the game, improved by Lewitt, gave Cornwall some breathing space, but Gloucestershire set up a dramatic finale with a debatable late touchdown from flanker Loti Molitika, with Fielding adding the extras.
Cornwall: K Lewitt (Cornish All Blacks), L Vinnicombe (Truro), R Westren (All Blacks), N Webber (All Blacks) (L Paterson, Ivybridge, 26), T Notman (Redruth) (J Matavesi, Camborne, 69), L Webb (All Blacks), G Goodfellow (Redruth), J Ford-Robinson (Cambridge) (C Williams, Redruth, 55), J Salter (All Blacks), C Williams (Redruth) (D Jacques, Truro, 43), B Hilton (All Blacks, capt), D Cook (Redruth) (B Jenkins, All Blacks, 43), C Fuca (Redruth), T Rawlings (All Blacks) (B Priddey, Redruth, 33-48), BJ Chapman (All Blacks) (Cook 69). Replacements not used: T Whittle (Falmouth), M Shepherd (St Austell).
Gloucestershire (Cinderford unless stated): S Hawley, S Baker, J Carter (Hartpury College), S Rodwell (Hartpury Coll) (C Gervais, Old Reds, 46), L Fielding (Chinnor), M Wilcox, S Arnott (Lydney) (A Frame 63), J Smart (R Birkin 46), T Bozzard (N Taylor, Hartpury 63), S Fritchley (Old Centralians) (J Lloyd, Dings Crusaders, ht), B Scriven (Lydney) (H Hone, Avonmouth OB, 25-73), L Randall, L Molitika (J Brooks 40+4, J Smart 63), Jones (capt), M Uren (Dings Crusaders) (Molitika 69).
Cornwall: Tries: Notman (2), Goodfellow, Williams, Vinnicombe; Cons: Lewitt (4).
Gloucestershire: Tries: Bozzard, Fielding, Molitika; Cons: Fielding (3); Pens: Fielding (2).
Referee: Paul Kimber (RFU).