Northampton Saints headed into day two of the Premiership Rugby 7s competition ready to lock horns with Gloucester in the Plate semi-finals of but fell agonisingly short as an overtime try saw them out of tournament.
The tournament hosts kicked off their campaign with a defeat to Bristol, going down 26-24 at the death after a back-and-forth opening clash.
Northampton went behind as Toby Venner scored his first, but a burst down the left wing from Josh Gillespie saw him hold off three defenders and level the scores at 7-7 – Tommy Mathews knocking over the conversion.
Stubborn defence across the park from Saints forced a knock on, but as they were pinged trying to clear their lines, a quick tap-and-go from Bristol allowed Ioan Lloyd to put them back ahead.
Skipper Connor Tupai responded with a score in the left corner, the scrum-half finishing well after Tui Uru’s excellent offload, but Mathews could not add the extras from the touchline making it 14-12 at the break.
Northampton looked to have the game in the bag with two quick scores for Tommy Freeman, who first barged his way over the line after a tap-and-go – Uru again the one to cause Bristol problems with a slick offload.
Mathews' conversion made it 19-14, before Freeman collected his own kick to score a superb solo try.
But two late scores for Bristol through Venner, and one clutch conversion from Lloyd, edged the Bears 26-24 clear with the clock already in the red.
And things did not get any better for Saints later in the evening, with scores for Dylan Munro, Sam Riley, Lennox Anyanwu, and Jack Kenningham helping Harlequins to a 29-0 win.
Northampton began day two of the competition locking horns with Gloucester Rugby for a place in the Plate final and though Gloucester looked like scoring first a brilliant cover tackle from Gillespie kept things level.
Eventually though it was Gloucester that got the scoring started, as Cory Howells snuck around the corner and over the whitewash.
But Saints hit straight back and Uru raced in untouched from the restart, with Mathews’ conversion putting the hosts ahead.
Gloucester added a second to their tally through Jake Morris just before the break to put them 12-7 up before Morris claimed his second on the restart.
Saints responded immediately to bring the game within a score as skipper Connor Tupai steamed in from the halfway line and were soon ahead as Tommy Freeman collected his own kick to score under the sticks.
The conversion from Mathews gave Saints a narrow lead with three minutes left and a fourth try extended the home lead further; Tom Litchfield broke through with Ollie Newman and Gillespie on his shoulder – the latter scoring in the corner.
Gloucester weren’t done though and scored with just 30 seconds left before Howells scored a second with the clock in the red to see Saints drop out of the competition.