Northampton Saints stayed top of Pool Three of the Premiership Rugby Cup, despite a last-gasp 14-12 defeat at Kingsholm to Gloucester Rugby.
The visitors led as the clock ticked into the red at the end of the 80 minutes thanks to two impressive tries from Piers Francis and Cobus Reinach at the beginning of each half, with resolute defence keeping Gloucester at bay for most of the game.
But after a lengthy TMO review referee Greg MacDonald adjudged Gerbrandt Grobler had wriggled over the line next to the posts to snatch a win for the Cherry & Whites – although Saints’ losing bonus point at least kept them at the summit of their group in the competition.
With the wind swirling around Kingsholm and the rain pounding down, it was unsurprising to see both sides trade some early high balls, but George Furbank laid down a marker by winning the kicking battle with his opposite number.
And Saints struck first with just five minutes on the clock, Francis exchanging a brilliant one-two with Furbank and then using his momentum on the greasy surface to slide over the whitewash, despite the attempts of two Gloucester defenders to stop him.
Dingwall was employed to keep the ball steady on the kicking tee, such was the wind, but James Grayson snatched at the conversion attempt slightly to leave the scoreline at 5-0.
The visitors were piling on the pressure, with 85 per cent territory inside the first 15 minutes, but could not make all their possession count as Reinach was picked off five metres out by the Cherry & Whites’ Henry Trinder.
However, Saints found themselves behind against the run of play just after the 20-minute mark after another interception – this time by Matt Banahan – allowed the winger to run in under the posts.
Willi Heinz took a quick tap-and-go penalty soon after, and while the hit from Paul Hill was a big one he was not ten yards away, and the prop saw yellow for not retreating.
But determined defence from the men in Black, Green and Gold despite being a man down kept the score to 7-5 at the break.
Saints started the second half just as they had begun the first, and a scintillating break down the right flank saw Tom Collins burst clear and feed Reinach, who showed off some brilliant footballing skills on the wet turf to hack on and touch down a try.
Grayson’s touchline conversion took his side five points clear, and it took a couple of defiant defensive sets from Northampton’s forwards to keep them there with 25 minutes remaining as Gloucester built the phases deep in Saints’ 22.
Chris Boyd rang the changes with the likes of Alex Waller, Alex Mitchell, Jamie Gibson, Andrew Kellaway and Api Ratuniyarawa entering the fray – but it was the work of Tom Wood and Lewis Ludlam that earned Saints a couple of vital turnovers.
However the late drama was still to come and after a series of scrums and phases on their own line, Saints’ defence was finally breached when MacDonald awarded Grobler a match-winning try – with Billy Twelvetrees holding his nerve to slot a routine conversion and snatch a win.
Northampton remain top of Pool Three courtesy of the losing bonus earned at Kingsholm, but the result sets up a nail-biting fourth round of the competition with a victory needed to progress and Leicester Tigers coming to Franklin’s Gardens.
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