Saints down Gloucester in see-saw battle
PREMIERSHIP MATCH REPORT: Northampton Saints continue their winning-steak with a narrow 23-20 victory over Gloucester on Friday.
Tom Kessell came off the bench to earn Northampton Saints a in a topsy-turvy encounter at Franklin’s Gardens.
The hosts earned themselves a ten-point advantage at the interval, courtesy of Louis Picamoles’ powerful effort and three from the tee from Stephen Myler – the first of which took him past 1500 Premiership Rugby points.
And while two tries for Gloucester’s Jacob Rowan and Charlie Sharples turned the match on its head, up popped scrumhalf Kessell to burrow over the whitewash for what proved to be the decisive score from Picamoles’ offload.
Gloucester started well as Richard Hibbard combined with Mariano Galarza, but as the visitors bore down on Saints line, the ball was lost forwards.
The Cherry & Whites were piling pressure on at the breakdown, and when fullback Ben Foden was caught stranded after a chip through, Matt Scott was straight over the top to win an eighth-minute penalty – although Laidlaw uncharacteristically slid his kick wide across the posts.
Saints threatened on 11 minutes when centre Harry Mallinder found some space which George North exploited to finish brilliantly, but Northampton were then called back for forward pass in the offload.
Saints were again pinged for not releasing on 13 minutes, but the radar was well and truly off for Laidlaw who again failed to make them pay from the tee, this time pushing his effort right.
And the breakthrough finally came after 25 minutes when Ben Foden’s brilliant sniping run allowed Louis Picamoles to take on the ball just five metres out, and the French powerhouse muscled his way through the Cherry & Whites’ defences to score the first try of the game – with the try eventually awarded via the TMO.
Myler made no mistake with the conversion, and that was a significant kick from the flyhalf as it took him to 1 500 Premiership Rugby points.
And the flyhalf turned the screw moments later with an arrow-straight 40-metre penalty after John Afoa played it on the floor to make it 10-0 to the Saints.
Laidlaw came good with his third penalty of the night to reduce arrears after Picamoles was pinged on 34 minutes, but Myler restored the ten-point advantage before the break after Alex Waller forced a Gloucester infringement in the scrum.
But some harsh words at half-time from David Humphreys clearly did the trick for Gloucester, who came roaring back five minutes into the second half.
Billy Twelvetrees took advantage of some indecision from the hosts to collect Laidlaw’s box-kick, and the Cherry & Whites spread the ball wide for Rowan to go over in the corner for his first Premiership Rugby try.
Laidlaw’s touchline conversion bisected the posts, and although another Myler penalty gave Northampton some breathing room on 52 minutes when Tom Savage was offside, the Scottish scrumhalf soon cancelled that out when Gloucester won a scrum penalty deep in Saints territory.
Hibbard put in a try-scoring tackle on Harry Mallinder moments later after another thrilling Foden burst, but Northampton were not to be denied.
An excellent lineout play saw replacement Kessell cross the whitewash after Hartley threw long, and Picamoles again was the man to offload at the perfect moment.
James Hook’s penalty attempt from halfway was on target but fell just short on 73 minutes, and Northampton clung on in the dying embers of the match to inflict a first away loss of the season on Gloucester.
Tries: Picamoles, Kessell
Cons: Myler 2
Pens: Myler 3
Tries: Rowan, Sharples
Cons: Laidlaw 2
Pens: Laidlaw 2
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 James Wilson, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood (captain), 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Ahsee Tuala.
Gloucester: 15 James Hook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May,; 10 Billy Twelvetrees, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza; 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa; 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Salesi Ma'afu, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Henry Purdy.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell, Steve Lee
TMO: Stuart Terheege