IT took a South Sea Islander, Terry Fanolua, to open up the clam- like Northampton defence in what was a thoroughly absorbing and ultimately exciting Premiership One match.
The victory hauled Gloucester above Saints in the table and and helped them consign their midweek thrashing of Bath to the waste-bin. Saints had begun without their captain, Tim Rodber, who had failed to recover from a hamstring strain, but even without him Northampton were a formidable unit. The front five made life difficult for Gloucester and the back three proved a handful.
The home side were equal to the task with the lock Rob Fidler a towering presence in the line-out and in midfield Australian Richard Tombs proved a graveyard for many a hopeful Saint looking to break through.
It was tight in the early exchanges, and came down to pack power. It was therefore something of a shock when Harvey Thorneycroft broke the deadlock after 35 minutes of shuddering, shattering close work. A scrum saw Northampton break right, Thorneycroft rounded a static Audley Lumsden and cut inside, beating a couple more men before carrying another two over with him.
Paul Grayson's missed conversion let the home side back in, however, Mark Mapletoft landing two penalties to sneak the Cherry and Whites into the lead. But two missed penalties from the same boot within 10 minutes allowed Grayson to land his only one of the match and restore Saints' lead and for some time thereafter Northampton dictated affairs, rumbling into Gloucester's tender parts. But pressure is no good without points and the home guard defended stoutly, even after the departure of their captain, Pete Glanville, with a hyper- extended elbow.
His replacement was Steve Ojomoh so little, if anything, was lost. By then Gloucester's promising tight-head, Phil Vickery, had also left the field, after receiving a knock on his head from a member of his own side. According to Richard Hill, Gloucester's director of rugby, Vickery did not want to go off. "He almost punched my lights out when I said he could not go back on," Hill said.
It was a long mis-pass by Mapletoft which put the Western Samoan among the Northampton stool pigeons. The ball actually missed everyone but bounced oblingingly and Fanolua pounced. He burst out of Jon Sleightholme's and Ian Hunter's inadequate attempts to pop him in the bag and then popped a pass inside for Lumsden to touch down under the posts.
Four minutes later Fanolua took a flat ball from Mapletoft and thundered over to present his provider with a second simple conversion. Grant Seely's 80th-minute try from a tap penalty was too late, despite three minutes of injury time, to help the Northampton cause.
Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, C Fortey, P Vickery (A Powles, 40), R Fidler, M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt; S Ojomoh, 54), S Devereux, N Carter.
Northampton: I Hunter; J Sleightholme, G Townsend, M Allen, H Thorneycroft, P Grayson, M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, A Clarke (C Johnson, 62), M Stewart (M Hynes, 62), J Phillips, J Chandler, D MacKinnon, B Pountney, G Seely.
Referee: C Hawke (NZ).Reuse content