Northampton Saints could not get the Chris Boyd era off to a winning start as a lack of discipline proved costly in a 27-16 loss away at Gloucester.
Boyd’s side scored two tries in the season opener at Kingsholm, as many as their hosts, but a mounting penalty count in the second half scuppered their momentum.
England internationals Piers Francis and Courtney Lawes marked their return to the Black, Green and Gold by crossing the whitewash either side of half-time, while fly-half Dan Biggar notched up six points from the tee.
The Cherry & Whites raced out of the blocks as Saints were penalised early in the breakdown for Billy Twelvetrees to make it 3-0, before James Hanson drove over at the back of a maul after Danny Cipriani had kicked into the corner.
Twelvetrees’ conversion slipped wide but the visitors needed a response, and while they got it through the boot of Biggar after Ruan Ackermann put his hands in the ruck, Saints were immediately offside and pegged back again by the Gloucester centre.
However, once Boyd’s men got the ball in their hands they looked dangerous, and after a superb move along the backline saw Tuala scoop up the ball, the Samoan raced around the outside of the final two defenders and used all his strength to stay in play and offload for the onrushing Francis to score.
There was more promise for Saints as the hosts’ skipper Ed Slater saw yellow for a neck roll on Alex Waller, and another penalty shortly after saw Biggar send the ball deep into Gloucester territory.
Saints were banging at the door but their hosts held firm, eventually coughing up a penalty for Biggar to level the scores at 11-11 with 20 minutes gone.
The No.10 was in the thick of the action just after to stop Matt Banahan scoring a certain try, but a high tackle shortly after saw Heinrich Brüssow pinged and Twelvetrees again was reliable from the tee.
And the Cherry & Whites struck a hammer blow on the stroke of half-time to open up their lead once more, with Cipriani finding Charlie Sharples with a long pass off the back of the scrum, the winger scoring and dashing inside to provide Twelvetrees with a simple conversion.
With the scoreline 21-11 at the break, the first points of the second half would be vital, but a nip-and-tuck start to the second half meant those did not come until after the hour mark.
England captain Dylan Hartley came off the bench on 50 minutes, and despite a lot of Northampton territory and a couple of smart runs from Cobus Reinach, there was no breakthrough.
But three back-to-back penalties allowed Gloucester to move the length of the pitch and score three points through Twelvetrees.
A scintillating break from Tom Collins saw Saints burst back into life, with the winger cynically pulled down by Tom Hudson who was subsequently sin-binned – the visitors then turned the screw and kicked to the corner with Lawes burrowing over to give his side a chance with 13 minutes left on the clock.
Biggar’s conversion drifted wide however and despite late pressure, Saints could not claw back the deficit. They came within a whisker of grabbing a try-bonus point right at the death as replacement Ehren Painter rumbled over, but the TMO adjudged Brüssow (who made the try) was a fraction offside in the build-up.
Tickets are still available for Northampton Saints’ first home match of the Gallagher Premiership season, as they welcome Harlequins to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday 7th September (kick-off 7.45pm). CLICK HERE to book your spot!