'Brilliant' Adam Hastings shines as Gloucester Rugby beat Benetton to reach the Challenge Cup final

Gloucester reached the EPCR Challenge Cup final for a fourth time in their history after beating Italian hopefuls Benetton 40-23 at Kingsholm. George Skivington’s team will face South African contenders The Sharks at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24.

And despite struggling in the Gallagher Premiership this season, Gloucester - who are celebrating their 150th year as a club - are now chasing more silverware after being crowned Premiership Rugby Cup winners in March.

READ MORE Gloucester Rugby 40-23 Benetton Rugby LIVE: Reaction and highlights from Challenge Cup win

Fly-half Adam Hastings, who has played just one game since January due to injury, was the architect of Gloucester’s triumph, contributing 17 points through a try, three conversions and two penalties on his penultimate home appearance before rejoining Glasgow this summer. Full-back Josh Hathaway, hooker Seb Blake, lock Freddie Clarke and wing Ollie Thorley also touched down, while scrum-half Caolan Englefield kicked a penalty 10 minutes from time.

Benetton, Challenge Cup semi-finalists last term, pushed Gloucester hard as hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi (2) and full-back Rhyno Smith scored tries – Tomas Albornoz added two penalties and a conversion – but two tries in four minutes midway through the second period gave the home side breathing space. Gloucester will now target a third Challenge Cup final win after lifting the trophy in 2006 and 2015.

Gloucester director of rugby Skivington said: “It’s huge for the club. We want to go to finals, win trophies and be in knockout stages of competitions. We have put ourselves in a position to have a shot at another one, but we have got a fierce opposition and we are going to have to be very ready for it.

"Adam was brilliant. He is moving on next season, but he has been great for us and will do whatever it takes for the team. We gave him a really strong game-plan this week, and he led that really well.”

The Cherry and Whites made a strong start, monopolising possession and territory before opening their account after six minutes when centre Chris Harris’ kick into space behind Benetton’s defence allowed Hathaway a simple finish.

The Italian side soon found their way into the game, though, with an Albornoz penalty rounding off a threatening spell that saw international flankers Sebastian Negri and Michele Lamaro make prominent contributions. Hastings and Albornoz then exchanged penalties – Gloucester’s Scotland international found the target from 48 metres – and there was little to choose between the teams.

But Gloucester had immediate success when they turned to their driving lineout threat, sending Benetton backwards at a rate of knots from five metres out and Blake touched down. Hastings converted from the touchline, yet Gloucester saw number eight Zach Mercer yellow-carded for a trip on Smith, and the visitors almost responded immediately. Wing Onisi Ratave breached Gloucester’s defence to touch down in the corner, but the try was ruled out following an off-the-ball push by a Benetton player in build-up play.

It was a major let-off for Gloucester, yet they could not reach half-time without conceding as Benetton cut them open from deep. Negri and number eight Toa Halafihi made headway, and Smith had the pace to finish off, making it 15-11 at half-time.

Benetton looked to make further in-roads with Mercer still off, but they had their hands full at the breakdown where Gloucester captain Lewis Ludlow repeatedly made his presence felt. Hastings kicked a second penalty in the 48th minute, only for Benetton to charge upfield after a lengthy Albornoz touch-finder and replacement hooker Luccheshi touch down following a well-executed lineout drive.

Gloucester had to respond, and they hit back with a try just three minutes later when strong carrying and sharp off-loading created room for Hastings to claim his team’s third try before adding the conversion.

And the home side were not finished, moving past 30 points when Clarke intercepted Albornoz’s pass and sprinted 50 metres for a try that Hastings converted. Benetton refused to go quietly as Lucchesi claimed his second try of the game, but Englefield’s late penalty calmed any nerves and Gloucester were home and dry when Thorley touched down.

Gloucester Rugby: 15. Josh Hathaway, 14. Jonny May, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Seb Atkinson, 11. Ollie Thorley, 10. Adam Hastings, 9. Caolan Englefield, 1. Mayco Vivas, 2. Seb Blake, 3. Kirill Gotovtsev, 4. Freddie Clarke, 5. Freddie Thomas, 6. Ruan Ackermann, 7. Lewis Ludlow (c), 8. Zach Mercer

Replacements: 16. Santiago Socino, 17. Jamal Ford-Robinson, 18. Ciaran Knight, 19. Albert Tuisue, 20. Jack Clement, 21. Stephen Varney, 22. Charlie Atkinson, 23. Alex Hearle

Benetton Rugby: 15. Rhyno Smith, 14. Ignacio Mendy, 13. Tommaso Menoncello, 12. Nacho Brex, 11. Onisi Ratave, 10. Tomas Albornoz, 9. Alessandro Garbisi, 1. Thomas Gallo, 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Simone Ferrari, 4. Scott Scrafton, 5. Eli Snyman, 6. Sebastian Negri da Ollegio, 7. Michele Lamaro (c), 8. Toa Halafihi

Replacements: 16. Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17. Mirco Spagnolo, 18. Giosue Zilocchi, 19. Niccolo Cannone, 20. Edoardo Iachizzi, 21. Alessandro Izekor, 22. Andy Uren, 23. Leonardo Marin

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Geo)

Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Sco) and Sam Grove-White (Sco)

TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wal)