Northampton Saints’ European hopes were dashed for this season at Gloucester, as the Cherry & Whites prevailed 31-21 after a slow start from Chris Boyd’s side in the West Country.
The men in Black, Green and Gold trailed 21-0 after 20 minutes at Kingsholm, but hauled themselves back into the contest before the interval thanks to two tries from Juarno Augustus and Rory Hutchinson.
Gloucester however got the crucial first score of the second-half, and at 28-14 Northampton faced an uphill battle after Dan Biggar saw red for a high tackle on Chris Harris. Mikey Haywood added another try for Saints, but the clock was against them and despite enjoying the best of the closing salvos, the visitors could not close the deficit any further.
Saints won an early penalty as Santiago Socino was penalised for not rolling away, but Biggar’s tricky attempt from the tee hit the post and Gloucester were able to clear to touch.
The hosts then went ahead in the fourth minute as Ollie Thorley scythed through a gap and used his impressive pace to score in the corner.
Northampton did well off the restart to regather the ball, but it was lost forward close to the line, and Adam Hastings launched a breakaway with a kick which was chased by Louis Rees-Zammit. The ball found its way to Val Rapava-Ruskin on the left wing via an offload from Thorley, with the prop finishing off the move.
Two well-struck conversions from Hastings took the scoreline to 14-0, and things went from bad to worse for Saints as Courtney Lawes was withdrawn with a hand injury.
The Cherry & Whites were able to earn themselves some territory as Saints were pinged a couple of times in quick succession by referee Sam Grove-White. As the hosts looked to utilise their dangerous driving maul, after a warning for repeated infringements, Lawes’ replacement Alex Coles was sin binned for 10 minutes.
Gloucester then made the extra man count in the 21st minute from yet another lineout drive, with Matias Alemanno this time getting over the whitewash to touch down.
Saints negotiated the rest of the yellow card period well, and as soon as Coles returned to the field, they were off the mark as Augustus peeled around the outside of a lineout drive and barged his way over the line – with Biggar landing a good conversion from out wide.
A lungbusting passage of play followed as both sides almost scored from deep, with Hutchinson making a brilliant break from close to his own line before attempting a cross-field kick a couple of phases later, but Thorley was back to gather and call the mark.
Northampton’s No.12 was in the thick of the action again moments later however, as a loose pass from Gloucester inside their own half was gratefully scooped up by Hutchinson and he ran under the posts unchallenged.
Biggar’s successful conversion brought Saints back within a score at the interval, but the men in Black, Green and Gold could not stop the hosts from notching the first points of the second half as Socino rumbled over at the back of another rolling maul.
Hastings converted, and the Cherry & Whites’ increased their breathing space on 52 minutes with a penalty kick after Biggar was red carded for making contact with the head of Harris as he attempted a tackle.
With just 14 men on the field for the rest of the contest, Northampton were up against it, but they did not concede again from there and actually closed the gap with 15 minutes remaining as Haywood scored from another lineout drive.
Furbank’s conversion made it 31-21, but despite a series of penalties in the Gloucester half, Saints could not convert their opportunities late on – with a red card for the hosts’ Alex Craig for a swinging arm on Coles the final action of the match.
Northampton will need to dust themselves down ahead of a crucial trip to Bath next weekend in the race for the top four in the Gallagher Premiership.