The last time Northampton and Gloucester met, it was at Kingsholm Park last year and a late penalty saw the Cherry and Whites steal the win, the only loss Northampton have had in the Premiership this season. But Northampton kept their winning streak on home turf and even managed to gain the bonus point.
Only two minutes into the first half and Ken Pisi made a great break through the Gloucester defence, charging from the half way line to score under the posts. What a start!
But only minutes later, an interception from Henry Trinder saw him running three-quarter’s of the pitch to score an equally impressive try at the other end. No-one was under any illusion then. Gloucester were here intent on breaking Northampton’s winning run.
Even though points were on the board for both sides, it was an extremely poor first half. Careless mistakes cost Gloucester as they spent a large portion of time defending in their own 22, and although Northampton looked composed in the first couple of minutes, it looked as if their eager eyes were their down fall, with the likes of Kahn Foutali’i giving some weak, inaccurate passes off the back of the ruck and James Wilson kicking straight into touch … twice, preventing play from progressing.
Anyone would’ve thought the ball was a hot potato; the amount of quick panic passes played all over the pitch, which had both sides scrambling for possession. There was a sense of unnecessary urgency when composure and patience were critical but the battle kept both sides level pegging.
Neither side showed any clinical phases of play and poor handling errors led to careless penalties; this made for a very frantic game.
Realistically, Northampton should have been bossing the 9thÂ placed Gloucester pack but it was proving a beefy battle. Gloucester had obviously analysed Northampton’s game plan and they looked intent on playing a lot of running rugby to match Northampton’s tactics and it was working.
Were the Saints a little lack-lustre or were they warming up still? In the first half, their set play was stuck in the doldrums, especially when poor handling errors saw Ken Pisi passing to thin air.
Dare I say it, the Premiership leaders were looking out of sorts, sloppy and passive. Their clinical performance would need to be stepped up a gear if they were to win and with Samu Manoa on for the injured GJ Van Velze just short of half time, could he be the game changer Northampton needed as they went in just 13-10 up.
Soon after the restart, Northampton rang the changes with Ben Foden igniting the crowd on his return from injury and Lee Dickson and Alex Waller also coming off the bench. The strength, depth and experience of these players, along with the youthful composure of Tom Stephenson,Â Will Hooley and Ethan Waller were just what was needed to set Northampton up from here on in and a superb run of tries saw Gloucester’s gumption and fight flounder.
The first of four tries came from Calum Clark who stretched out full length over the line. But it was a further three tries in fourteen minutes that gave the Saints crowd what they came for! An awesome score from Tom Stephenson started it, as he ripped through the Gloucester defence. Great to see the Academy player face up to the likes of Mike Tindall and showcase his ability and confidence.
Gloucester’s Will James was sin-binned with six minutes to go and this proved beneficial to Northampton as Alex Waller and the forwards pack crossed the line with a rolling maul to drive the Saints over. Will Hooley then backed up the bonus point to seal the deal and take Northampton back up to the top of the table. But they definitely didn’t make it easy for themselves.
The second half of this game eventually erupted into something very special. Even thoughÂ Mike Tindall had an exceptional game, cutting through the defence on several occasions and running a great line at pace, Gloucester looked very tired in the last quarter and didn’t fulfil their own expectations which in turn, played into Northampton’s hands.
My Man of the Match was the Saints Academy player Tom Stephenson, who enjoyed an excellent 80 minute performance. Afterwards he told me that patience had been the key:
â€œIn the first half we were trying to force the passes,â€ he said. â€œIn the second half we were a lot more patient, kept the ball and took our chances.â€
Jim Mallinder told me:
â€œThe replacements did a really good job, looking after the ball and continuing to apply pressure. We’re in a fortunate position. You need an experienced core of players and to then bring in some of the younger lads to play amongst that is the right thing to do.â€
Gloucester definitely put up a fierce fight in the first-half and they looked like a well drilled and developed side compared to earlier this season. But when you head to Franklins Gardens, you can’t expect anything less than a physical battle and they just couldn’t manage to hold out.
A deserved win for Northampton but only just.
Full Time: Northampton Saints 39-13 Gloucester
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her blog at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.ukÂ – you can also see Rhiannon’s review of the weekendâ€™s Aviva Premiership action here: Premiership Round Up.