It was just another quiet afternoon at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, as Northampton Saints’ latest jet-powered second half inspired them to a crucial win over Gloucester.
It was vital Saints backed up their epic victory over Sale Sharks last week, especially as they were up against opponents who going into this game were just one point behind them in the Gallagher Premiership.
There was little to choose between the sides in the first half, but a burst of three tries in eight minutes just before the hour mark ensured the hosts could not be caught.
It was just as well they opened up such an advantage, as some late slackness allowed Gloucester to come away with two bonus points that looked extremely unlikely, given the men in Black, Green & Gold’s earlier dominance.
Both sides had early opportunities to assert themselves, but it was Saints who opened the scoring through a James Grayson penalty after six minutes.
The Cherry and Whites, however, had the game’s first try when one of their dangerous driving mauls proved impossible to repel, with Seb Blake grounding the ball.
Santi Carreras missed the conversion and that allowed Grayson the chance to kick Saints into the lead shortly after when Tom Collins was obstructed by Jonny May, only for the fly-half to push his penalty wide.
But the hosts did move back ahead in the 22nd minute when a tapped penalty close to the Gloucester try line led to Alex Waller burrowing his way over it, with Grayson adding the extras.
Chances to extend the lead were spurned when James Ramm’s pass meant for Alex Coles didn’t go to hand before a knock-on by Robbie Smith close to the line, with Gloucester then having a prolonged spell of pressure at the other end.
A brilliant tackle by Sam Graham held up Matias Alemanno in-goal before Albert Tuisue had a moment he’ll want to forget when he dropped the ball in the act of trying to ground it after getting through Saints’ defences.
But the Cherry and Whites finally made that pressure tell right on half-time when another driving maul led to Blake scoring his second try, although Carreras’ missed conversion meant the teams went into the break level at 10-10.
Parity did not last long after the restart as Callum Braley pounced to score from close range against his old club after David Ribbans and Alex Moon had both been stopped just short of the line, with Grayson converting.
It was not long until Gloucester responded, only this time it was from open play as the ball went through the hands of Carreras, Seb Atkinson and Chris Harris before Ollie Thorley had a walk-in down the right.
Carreras’ third missed conversion preserved Saints’ lead, which was extended after 51 minutes when Braley took his time at a ruck to pass right to Moon, who powered his way over. Grayson this time couldn’t add the extras.
Three minutes later, the bonus point was secured as Saints made the most of playing with advantage when Braley’s sharp pass sent Graham through to score under the posts, and the gap was up to 14 points.
Saints weren’t done, though, and continued to surge further clear when Harris fumbled Atkinson’s pass, allowing Tommy Freeman to pick up and go clear down the right.
Having played such a big part in attack, Ramm then prevented May from pulling a try back for Gloucester by tackling the England wing into touch metres from the line.
Then followed the try of the game – perhaps the try of the season – from Saints, who were now running riot.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto gathered the ball on the charge before off-loading to Rory Hutchinson, with it then rapidly going through the hands of Graham and Braley before the final pass put skipper Fraser Dingwall in the clear.
Frustratingly, the hosts took their foot off the gas in the closing stages, allowing ex-Saint Jamal Ford-Robinson to score Gloucester’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Alemanno quickly pulled another score back, going through some slack defence before Ford-Robinson rumbled over for his second off the final play, allowing Billy Twelvetrees to snatch a second bonus point for the visitors.
SAINTS: Ramm, Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Collins, J Grayson, Braley, A Waller, R Smith, Painter, Ribbans, Moon, Coles, Scott-Young, Graham
Replacements: Cruse, E Waller, Petch, Salakaia-Loto, Hinkley, Garside, F Smith, Skosan
GLOUCESTER: Evans, May, Harris, S Atkinson, Thorley, Carreras, Meehan, Rapava-Ruskin, Blake, Gotovtsev, Clarke, Alemanno, Ackermann, Ludlow, Tuisue
Replacements: Walker, Elrington, Ford-Robinson, Jordan, Clement, Chapman, Twelvetrees, Seabrook