Northampton Saints started their Gallagher Premiership campaign with a bang, scoring four tries to beat Gloucester Rugby 34-20 in a thrilling encounter on home soil.
The hosts took a 10-5 lead into the interval at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, with George Furbank crossing and James Grayson adding five points from the tee – but with Gloucester seeing two men sent to the sin-bin, a host of chances went begging for Saints.
But the men in Black, Green and Gold were far more clinical after half-time, as first Grayson then Nick Auterac scored tries to stretch Saints’ lead, and though Gloucester threatened a comeback, Tom Wood’s try with five minutes remaining sealed a memorable victory and a bonus point.
The hosts started the brighter side, almost scoring with a searing break in the second minute; Grayson collected a high ball before Lewis Ludlam, Furbank and Rory Hutchinson combined – with the later collecting his own kick over the top.
David Ribbans was stopped just short with Gloucester winning a penalty, but Saints earned one of their own moments later as Alex Mitchell charged down a clearing kick and Fraser Dingwall smashed Billy Twelvetrees in the tackle, with his teammates getting over the ball.
Grayson stroked over the kick from in front of the posts to make it 3-0, but after just nine minutes a crisp lineout move brought the first Northampton try of the new season.
Wood and Mitchell created the space for Furbank to charge through, and the England fullback cut inside to beat the last man and score under the posts, with Grayson landing the conversion for good measure.
Gloucester thought they had answered five minutes later as a well-worked lineout move saw Meehan dart over, but the TMO ruled out the score as Lewis Ludlow’s pass off the top of the lineout was clearly forward.
From here Northampton continued to mount the pressure and Gloucester’s penalty count started to climb; Grayson sent penalty after penalty into the corner, but unfortunately a couple of knock-ons close to the line cost Saints the try that would have put them out of sight.
Gloucester’s Jack Singleton was eventually yellow-carded after 24 minutes for a deliberate knock-on, and shortly after Hutchinson tried to find Matt Proctor with a grubber-kick into the corner, but it was slightly overcooked and went out into touch.
And the visitors made Saints pay for not converting those chances shortly after, as Kyle Moyle found a gap and fed Ollie Thorley on his left shoulder to go over in the corner – Lloyd Evans’ conversion attempt went wide but the Cherry & Whites had cut the deficit in half.
Jack Clement intercepted a James Fish pass and looked set to score, but a brilliant chase back from Grayson saw the fly-half make a try-saving tackle, before Furbank got over the ball to win a crucial penalty.
Another build-up of Gloucester penalties – with the visitors reaching double figures before the interval – led to a yellow card for Clement as he infringed at a rolling maul, but Saints could not make the visitors pay with more pressure close to the line and it stayed 10-5 at the break.
Evans landed a penalty moments into the second half as Painter was harshly penalised for not rolling away, but then two Saints tries in as many minutes put the hosts well clear.
Furbank was heavily involved again in the build-up, with wing Tom Collins showing some fancy footwork before offloading to Grayson to score in the left corner – the fly-half converting his own try from the touchline.
Then, seconds after entering the action, Auterac also had a try to his name – his first in Northampton colours – as Mitchell wriggled through a gap and sent the prop under the posts.
Saints’ Director of Rugby Chris Boyd emptied his bench, and there was a huge reception for South African No.8 Juarno Augustus as he entered the field for his Premiership debut.
Gloucester did stage a fightback with 25 minutes still on the clock; first Jordy Reid popped out of a rolling maul to score just inside the left touchline, and while Evans missed the conversion, Jonny May then squeezed into the right corner to bring his side within a converted score.
Grayson, who had landed a penalty won by replacement prop Paul Hill in-between the Cherry and Whites’ scores, saw yellow for a late hit on May as he scored, meaning Saints had to play the final ten minutes with only 14 men.
But Northampton gritted their teeth and, with time on their side, built the phases (with Augustus in particular carrying well) before picking up a vital bonus-point try. Furbank – now playing at 10 – went close, exchanging a one-two with Wood before the flanker burrowed his way over.
Furbank landed the conversion, and there was still time for Augustus to win a turnover inside Saints’ 22 to deny Gloucester any chance of any losing bonus points.
Next up for Boyd’s side is a trip to Devon to face Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park in a week, with the men in Black, Green and Gold then returning to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens to face London Irish in a fortnight.