An uncharacteristic display from an off-colour Northampton Saints saw the men in Black, Green and Gold beaten 31-7 by Gloucester in Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Set-piece errors and ill-discipline characterised a first-half performance at Franklin’s Gardens that saw Saints staring down the wrong end of a ten-point deficit at the break.
When the teams re-emerged from the sheds, the men from the West Country pulled further away in a bad-tempered second period, despite Henry Taylor’s consolation score inside the final ten minutes.
After Billy Twelvetrees had opened the scoring with a penalty, Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit showed how he earned his place as the youngest member of the British & Irish Lions’ touring party, capitalising on a Santiago Carreras assist to speed off into the corner for the game’s first try.
Mark Atkinson’s no-look inside pop was what set up the break, while Twelvetrees’ conversion opened up a ten-point lead for the visitors.
Things went from bad to worse for Northampton when Dan Biggar was forced off for an HIA – a collision on the deck with Twelvetrees doing the damage – and the fly-half did not return to the action.
Opportunities for Saints were few and far between, although good defensive work from the hosts kept them within touching distance; a Lewis Ludlam breakdown turnover, maul defence from Tom Wood and Dave Ribbans, plus a try-saving Api Ratuniyarawa tackle all thwarted the visitors close to the line.
The half ended with a Saints break that saw Taqele Naiyaravoro speed off into the 22, only to be tackled into touch by the relentless Gloucester defence, and the second 40 did not start on the right note either as the restart went out on the full.
Northampton did threaten to hit back after a Ludlam break up towards the 22, but it was the visitors who struck to add to their lead. George Furbank’s cross-field kick aimed at Matt Proctor bounced perfectly for Jordy Reid just outside the 22, and as Gloucester kept the ball alive via a series of offloads, Ed Slater was the beneficiary to hit the gap and secure the five-pointer.
The deficit quickly grew to 18 when Twelvetrees punished a scrum penalty, and ill-discipline continued to haunt Northampton as another breakdown penalty allowed Gloucester to kick into the 22. The end result was their third score of the day when the rolling maul – which had been an effective weapon for the visitors all afternoon – powered its way over in the corner with Jack Singleton on the end of it.
The bonus point was secured just past the hour mark, as Rees-Zammit capitalised on a chip over the top to score his second of the day. Piers Francis and Carreras were brandished yellow cards for their role in starting a scuffle after the try was scored.
Only a few seconds after entering the fray, Tom Seabrook joined his teammate in the bin when his deliberate knock-on prevented a Naiyaravoro break down the flank.
With Gloucester down to 13, Rory Hutchinson found space out wide and his pass gave Tommy Freeman the chance to take on the last defender, only for a covering tackle from the scrambling Giorgi Kveseladze to knock the Saints youngster into touch.
In the 71st minute, the men in Black, Green and Gold finally got on the scoreboard when Taylor picked off a defender around the fringes before fending off another to cross the whitewash.
Hutchinson’s conversion left the score at 7-28 heading into the closing stages, but there was still time for another Twelvetrees penalty to add some gloss to the final score. Saints will look to dust themselves on ahead of next week’s trip to Newcastle Falcons.