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Saints come close but leave Kingsholm with just one point

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

Saints had to come back from a nine-point half-time deficit, and they could not have started in worse fashion.


Gloucester's first score came with seven minutes on the clock, and in truth it had been coming from the first whistle. The Cherry and Whites had begun the game by forcing Courtney Lawes to fumble the kick off into touch, and they went from there to dominate both possession and territory in the opening exchanges.


They had also made two clean line breaks through Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, the Samoan twice showing a clean pair of heels to the defenders. But Saints were also guilty of putting themselves under pressure with two Martin Roberts box kicks being charged down.


And it was a missed tackle which opened the space for Charlie Sharples to run to the line. Ryan Lamb could not have been faulted for trying to close down the returning England Elite Player Squad winger as there were precious few black, green and gold shirts around him. But Sharples stepped around the fly half to score unopposed and with Freddie Burns on target with the extras Gloucester had given themselves the perfect start.


Saints came back with some controlled phase play that worked 30 metres upfield and earned a penalty from which Lamb got the visitors onto the score board. But when a subsequent attack came to an end when the numbers ran out Gloucester won themselves a penalty and a platform for Burns to increase the lead by three.


The visitors' best chance of the first half came a couple of minutes into the second quarter. Early engagement at a scrum had given them a free kick, and with Soane Tonga'uiha and Roger Wilson both getting over the gain line Martin Roberts put Lawes away down the right wing.


Only a desperate tackle prevented the flanker from scoring, but Saints had showed the danger they posed. A driving maul and powerful scrum showed that the visitors were happy to keep things tight as well as put the ball through the hands, but there was to be no reward for the effort as Lamb hooked his second shot left of the uprights.


Gloucester had survived, and with Burns on target from a long-range penalty they had a 10-point lead as well. This was reduced almost immediately as Mike Tindall held onto the ball in front of his own posts to give Lamb the perfect opportunity to make amends, which he duly did.


A third penalty from Lamb kept the scoreboard ticking over, but it could have been more. Wilson, Roberts and James Downey had all got over the gain line comfortably and when a scrum was awarded 10 metres out in front of the sticks Saints looked to have a perfect position.


However early engagement reared its head again and Gloucester had a free kick from which they cleared. And as if that weren't bad enough the restart jitters struck straight after Lamb's penalty, which Gloucester punished with a try for hooker Darren Dawidiuk in the right corner.


Burns hooked the conversion attempt, but Gloucester had done the perfect smash and grab after a long period of Saints pressure and when play resumed 15 minutes later they had a handy nine-point lead.


For their part Saints' good work had been undone by one or two silly errors, but the try meant that they needed to start the second half quickly to get back into striking range.


With a home fumble at the kick off and Nick Wood pulling down the subsequent scrum Lamb had a good chance to pull three points back. But while that went wide Lamb was on target seven minutes later to pull Saints back to within a score. There had been plenty of promise in the build-up, too, with Vasily Artemyev making a good break down the left touchline.


Downey and centre partner George Pisi were also making yards through midfield, but as with the first half Saints were making the odd mistake here and there which was letting Gloucester off the hook, and when the Cherry and Whites got into the visitors' 22 they earned a penalty for Burns to restore the two-score advantage.


Then just past the hour the Saints finally struck. The hard yards were starting to pay off, and despite Lamb having been replaced by Stephen Myler two penalties in quick succession were kicked for the corner.


The tactic paid off with Tonga'uiha being driven over in the corner, and with Myler on target with the extras there was everything to play for with the margin reduced to just two points.


Once again Gloucester responded within a couple of minutes, again through a Burns penalty. But the momentum stayed with the Saints, who tied things up with 13 minutes to go with a Pisi try. It was a good score which featured a searing attack that left the defence in disarray and Pisi's dummy, speed and strength took the Aviva man of the match over the whitewash.


Myler pulled the conversion wide to leave the game beautifully poised going into the last 10 minutes. But after having done all the hard work Saints put themselves under pressure when Roberts had another kick charged down five metres out from his own line.


Gloucester used the opportunity well, earning Burns a couple of shots at goal. The first hit the sticks but the second was on target and going into the final five minutes Saints were behind once more.


Still the black, green and gold runners kept on coming and with one last hurrah got back into the home 22. But Downey's short pass to Roberts drifted forward, Gloucester ran down the clock at the scrum and secured the points in the process.


REFEREE JP DOYLE


TIMELINE

7mins GLOUCS Try Sharples Con Burns 7-0

13mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 7-3

17mins GLOUCS Pen Burns 10-3

27mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

31mins GLOUCS Pen Burns 13-3

32mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 13-6

38mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 13-9

39mins GLOUCS Try Dawidiuk 18-9

HALF-TIME GLOUCESTER 18 SAINTS 9

43mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

49mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 18-12

55mins GLOUCS Pen Burns 21-12

62mins SAINTS Try Tonga'uiha Con Myler 21-19

65mins GLOUCS Pen Burns 24-19

67mins SAINTS Try Pisi 24-24

73mins GLOUCS Miss pen Burns

75mins GLOUCS Pen Burns 27-24

FULL-TIME GLOUCESTER 27 SAINTS 24