Tries either side of half-time from George North put Saints on their way to a last-day success at Gloucester and European Rugby Champions Cup rugby in 2016/17.
As has been their Achilles’ heel in recent weeks Saints came out of the blocks slowly, and within the opening couple of minutes they had not just gone behind but come within a foot’s width of conceding a try, too.
Greig Laidlaw’s penalty nudged the Cherry and Whites in front, Saints on the wrong end of some early decisions from referee JP Doyle, and had winger Elliott Creed not put a boot in touch then the hosts would have been over for a try, too.
Billy Twelvetrees’ break through a big midfield hole was a danger sign in itself, but so was Gloucester’s rapid recycling that created the overlap to put Creed clear.
It was a massive wake-up call for the Saints, who then set about establishing some good positions in the home half from which to set up attacks. But there was an overthrown lineout, and with Gloucester’s defence out of the top drawer in broken play and driving maul alike the visitors were being held comfortably at arm’s length.
It was clear that it was going to take something a bit special to open Gloucester up, and Harry Mallinder provided just that with 16 minutes on the clock. Running back a turnover, Mallinder spotted a dog-leg and mismatch on the blindside to ghost his way through the defensive line. Ken Pisi was in support, and with both full back and winger timing their passes superbly it was a simple matter for George Pisi to dive in for the score.
Laidlaw put Gloucester back in front six minutes later, but with Stephen Myler making no mistake with his next shot Saints were not just ahead once again but also a man to the good, too, Tom Savage having seen yellow for a no-arms tackle on Lee Dickson.
Scoring may have been at something of a premium, but there was no shortage of action. Teimana Harrison had one barnstorming run from a fractured scrum, and Gloucester prop John Afoa relished the dry conditions to flick a superb offload around the back of Myler to put the hosts onto the front foot.
There was another disallowed try for Gloucester, Willi Heinz knocking the ball on while chasing a kick through, but there was no such mistake just past the half-hour when Lloyd Evans went over in the left corner. It was a good score for the hosts during the final seconds of the sin bin period that both belied the disadvantage and capitalised on some more defensive errors from the Saints and with Laidlaw landing the touchline conversion the hosts were deservedly in front once again.
But there was worse to come for the visitors before half-time, whose woes without the ball were causing them significant problems. This time it was Ross Moriarty’s turn to step out of a tackle in midfield, and with space in front of him he accelerated past Mallinder to go over close to the posts.
Saints may have been missing too many tackles and on the wrong end of the penalty count, but Richard Hibbard’s lineouts were a source of good possession for the visitors. And it was one such turnover that brought the try Saints needed right at the end of the first half.
Mallinder took out any frustrations he may have been feeling immediately by cutting another good line down the right wing and with supporting runners on either side he chose to feed the unmarked North to dot down by the sticks.
The half-time break did not just see the inevitable chats in the dressing rooms, but also an end to the hitherto summer weather. It also brought a more simple and straightforward game plan from the Saints, who were rewarded for it inside the next 15 minutes.
The pressure was begun by Myler’s pinpoint cross-field kick to the unmarked Ken Pisi, whose grubber ahead was chased in turn by Mallinder to win a lineout deep in the home 22. Creed - who had been bundled into touch - made amends by stripping Jamie Gibson just as Saints were beginning to rumble ominously, but it was only temporary respite.
Tom Wood spotted no sweeper at a ruck, and as he’s done so many times since Christmas scooped up the ball to race forward. North was in support once again and with the flanker staying calm it was a simple finish for the winger once again.
A successful conversion and two penalties from Myler took Saints eight points clear, and as the game entered the fourth quarter the visitors’ grip on the game continued as they established position repeatedly deep in Gloucester territory.
But the scores they wanted just would not come, as Mallinder was pushed into touch on the left wing and George Pisi’s good grubber ahead bounced agonisingly the wrong side of the corner flag on the right.
So going into the final 10 minutes Gloucester were still very much in touch and but for a Laidlaw miss - his first in five matches - they would have been within a score. Jeremy Thrush also had a try ruled out by the TMO after dropping the ball close to the line, which was followed by a huge defensive set from the Saints to stop repeated Cherry and White charges forward.
A touchdown from Kahn Fotuali’i, a kick clear from Wood and that was that and the Saints - and their vocal travelling supporters - headed home with smiles on their faces.
GLOUCESTER Marshall; Thorley, Twelvetrees, Atkinson, Creed; Laidlaw (capt), Heinz; Thomas, Hibbard, Afoa, Savage, Thrush, Moriarty, Kvesic, Morgan
Reps - Dawidiuk, Wood, Doran Jones, G Evans, Ludlow, Braley, L Evans, Rowan
SAINTS Mallinder; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Day, Gibson, Wood, Harrison
Reps - Hartley, Ma’afu, Hill, Matfield, Nutley, Fotuali’i, Olver, Wilson
REFEREE JP Doyle
2mins GLOUCS Pen Laidlaw 3-0
16mins SAINTS Try G Pisi 3-5
22mins GLOUCS Pen Laidlaw 6-5
24mins GLOUCS Yellow card Savage
24mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-8
32mins GLOUCS Try L Evans Con Laidlaw 13-8
37mins GLOUCS Try Moriarty Con Laidlaw 20-8
40mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 20-15
HALF-TIME GLOUCESTER 20 SAINTS 15
47mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 20-22
50mins SAINTS Pen Myler 20-25
53mins SAINTS Pen Myler 20-28
71mins GLOUCS Miss pen Laidlaw
FULL-TIME GLOUCESTER 20 SAINTS 28