A sensational Cobus Reinach double sent Northampton Saints back to the top of the Gallagher Premiership standings with a victory over Gloucester Rugby at a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens.
The hosts led 13-7 at the end of a high-quality first half, courtesy of a Mikey Haywood try and two penalties from the boot of Dan Biggar, with Northampton enjoying the majority of territory and possession.
But the home fans were treated to a whirlwind second 40 that saw scrum-half Reinach touch down twice and Piers Francis add two more penalties to see Saints home, despite a hat-trick from young Cherry & White winger Louis Rees-Zammit.
Saints’ pack produced a brilliant steal deep inside their own 22 in the opening moments of the game, which allowed Biggar to clear his lines after Taqele Naiyaravoro was pinged for a high tackle and Gloucester had kicked to the corner.
But a piece of magic from Rees-Zammit saw Gloucester take the lead; the winger hacked forward and collected his own kick to touch down in the left-hand corner, with Danny Cipriani stroking the conversion through the uprights to make it 7-0.
Northampton then released Francis through the middle who made good ground, but despite hosts building the phases well, the Cherry & Whites’ defence held firm and they were able to clear up Rory Hutchinson’s grubber-kick.
Naiyaravoro came closes to answering for Saints as he bulldozed his way over the tryline before being stripped of the ball by Cipriani, but Northampton did get on the board after 25 minutes as Biggar made no mistake with a penalty from inside the 22 as Gloucester were caught offside.
Harrison scrapped for another penalty at the breakdown shortly after, and with Biggar receiving some treatment it was George Furbank who smacked a perfect kick into the corner.
Saints were banging on the door and the penalties began to mount up for the defiant visitors, but finally Gloucester were breached as Haywood rumbled over at the back of a rolling maul to score his second try of the season.
Biggar’s conversion was hit perfectly, and the hosts were really ticking as Francis burst through another gap. Within the same move Teimana Harrison bashed his way through Cipriani, before yet another Gloucester penalty meant the men in Black, Green and Gold smartly added another three points to their tally through Biggar to lead 13-7 at the interval.
And it was the perfect start to the second half for Saints – despite losing Biggar to injury – as Furbank stepped into the fly-half position and began to pull the strings, with Reinach scampering over under the posts after Tom Wood made some yards with a brilliant carry.
Francis took over kicking duties and slotted the conversion, and Reinach thought he had another moments later as Collins collected replacement Ahsee Tuala’s chip through, but the wing was adjudged by the TMO to have been inches ahead of the kicker and the score was chalked off.
It was a double blow for Northampton as Gloucester closed the gap with a try of their own; Chris Harris darting over the line after an offload from Mark Atkinson.
Reinach was not to be denied however and the South African scrum-half grabbed a second to strike back for Saints and complete a whirlwind ten minutes – capitalising on a loose Cipriani pass to collect his own kick and score.
Next came a try-saving tackle from Tom Collins, who worked 50 metres across the park to stop a certain score from Matt Banahan, but Rees-Zammit did strike back for Gloucester after he was released down the left wing – and Cipriani hit another excellent conversion from the touchline to keep it within a score at 27-21.
Josh Hohneck was shown a crucial yellow on 61 minutes for a swinging arm on Andy Symons, and after Furbank made some ground with the penalty, Franco Mostert was pinged again in front of the posts and Francis stretched the lead to nine points.
The Gardens was tense as the game entered the final ten minutes, and while Furbank prevented a Cipriani try with a wonderful tackle in the corner to keep Saints out in front, there was no stopping Rees-Zammit from picking up his hat-trick as he scampered over in the left corner after Cipriani released Harris.
That took the scoreline to 30-26 but another Francis penalty with two minutes on the clock, coupled with Wood collecting the subsequent restart, saw Saints hold on for a vital home triumph.