The LV= Cup may not be the most-coveted piece of silverware of the season, but you would not have guessed it from this pulsating, fiercely contested final.
In the end, Northampton Saints defeated Gloucester 30-24 in a riveting match which left all the players and the wonderfully partisan crowd utterly exhausted.
Though flair was not in abundance at Sixways, everything else was in place; enterprise, endeavour and no little expertise.
Saints deserved their victory; they scored three tries to two, which highlighted their more ruthless finishing. But the result was in doubt until the end as Gloucester could not have given any more.
The two teams sparred for almost half an hour when penalties were exchanged between Stephen Myler and Nicky Robinson, leaving the Cherry & Whites with a 9-6 advantage.
These may have been spring-like conditions, perfect for the fleet of foot, yet at the start of this forecious content the likeliest source of a try looked to be the rolling maul – typically English, but the scale of the brute force on display was awesome.
Then it all came to life, albeit via one of Gloucester’s rolling mauls. There was a neat exchange of passes and Akapusi Qera muscled himself over.
However, Northampton’s response was immediate and came from another Pacific Islander. Soane Tonga’uiha found himself three yards from the line, ball in hand with only a couple of Gloucester shirts in front of him, and there was no stopping him from there.
Northampton’s second try was spectacular, though Gloucester’s Alex Brown knew nothing of it. He was poleaxed by Phil Dowson to start off a breath-taking passage of play of multiple phases, which occupied most corners of the pitch and ended with James Downey racing over the line.
Six points down at half-time, Gloucester then rallied with a penalty try after a collapsed scrum, but again Northampton responded immediately as Lee Dickson powered over.
Gloucester looked to bounce back a second time and while Robinson thought he had scored, the TMO thought otherwise.
Gloucester sustained their attacks close to the line. A try seemed inevitable when the prop Tonga’uiha, a totemic figure throughout for Northampton, suddenly emerged with the ball and an empty pitch in front of him.
The Tongan sprinted 70 yards before he was caught, and while Gloucester managed to avoid conceding a fourth try, the pressure had been relieved – it was the moment that secured the match.
“I’m massively proud,” said stand-in skipper Dowson, who was given the honour of being the first Saint to hoist the domestic cup aloft.
“Dylan [Hartley] is obviously club captain but he’s been away and playing well in the Six Nations, so to be given the honour of lifting the trophy is something I’ll obviously treasure and enjoy for the rest of my career.
“The last domestic final I was in was six years ago with Newcastle, and it was really good for me to be back on the stage like that.
“It was tremendous, a tremendous feeling. The whole squad obviously contributed so it was great.”
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Geraghty, Reihana, Clarke (Ansbro 75), Downey, Diggin, Myler, Dickson; Tonga’uiha, Sharman (Long 62), Mujati, Lawes (Easter 70), Kruger, Dowson (capt), Best, Wilson.
TRIES: Tonga’uiha, Downey, Dickson
CONS: Myler 3
PENS: Myler 3
GLOUCESTER: Burns (Voyce 63), Simpson-Daniel, Molenaar (Sharples 41), Fuimaono-Supilu, Vainikolo, Robinson, Lawson (Lewis 69), Wood, Azam (Dawidiuk 74), Capdevielle, James, Brown (Satala 37), Buxton (capt), Qera (Hazell 69), Eustace.
TRIES: Qera, Penalty
PENS: Robinson 4
Referee: Alan Lewis