Northampton Saints’ Gallagher Premiership play-off hopes took a dent at home to Gloucester Rugby, as they were beaten 40-31 at Franklin's Gardens by the West Country outfit.
A frenetic first-half saw Gloucester’s Mark Atkinson score a hat-trick and Ruan Ackermann also touched down, but Saints kept in touch through Taqele Naiyaravoro, Piers Francis and Cobus Reinach – leaving the visitors with a 19-26 lead at the break.
The Cherry & Whites dotted over twice in the second-half through Ed Slater and Franco Marais while Reece Marshall and Rory Hutchinson also scored for the men in Black, Green and Gold, as Gloucester ultimately ran out 40-31 winners.
Saints opened the scoring after six minutes when Naiyaravoro broke free out wide, stepping over several defenders to stretch over the line and give Northampton a 5-0 lead.
Gloucester hit back three minutes later though when Danny Cipriani’s long pass found Atkinson waiting on the wing to touch down while Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion put the visitors 7-5 ahead.
After the restart, Gloucester collected the ball but it was fumbled and Francis pounced to run under the posts, while Dan Biggar successfully converted to put Saints in front once more.
The lead didn’t last long however when Atkinson got his second of the afternoon, collecting the ball from a line-out move to slip through the defence and put Gloucester back in front.
After a period where neither side could assert their dominance, Gloucester looked set to score a try when Matt Banahan intercepted and broke free, but he was hauled down by Naiyaravoro. The TMO however ruled the Wallaby's tackle was high and he was sent to the sin bin.
With the extra man on the field, Gloucester capitalised when Ackermann scored after a series of phases while the conversion was successful to give the visitors a 21-12 lead.
However, five minutes later Northampton scored their third try of the afternoon when Ahsee Tuala escaped a tackle and offloaded to Teimana Harrison, who gave the ball to Reinach to score and reduce the deficit to 19-21.
But just before the break Gloucester extended their lead again when Atkinson secured his hat-trick after being set up by Jaco Kriel; Twelvetrees missed the conversion to leave the lead at 19-26.
The Cherry & Whites came out the traps quickly in the second-half when Ed Slater stretched over the line to score their fifth try of the afternoon and Twelvetrees’ conversion extended their advantage to 33-19.
In the 53rd minute, Saints scored the bonus-point try when Marshall dotted down at the base of a maul, but with 15 minutes remaining Gloucester scored their sixth after a line-out from five metres out saw Marais touch down.
Saints tried to make inroads through an attritional period of play which saw both sides lose players to injury, but Gloucester remained firm in defence.
That is until Hutchinson broke free on the halfway line with five minutes to go and ran the distance to score Northampton’s fifth try; Francis added the extras to reduce the gap to 31-40.
However, the clock was against the men in Black, Green and Gold and they had to settle for a losing bonus-point. Chris Boyd's side now sit seventh in the table, seven points off next week's opponents Harlequins in fourth.