Gloucester withstand Saints' cavalry charge
Gloucester 27 Northampton 15
Wednesday 20 April 2011
Gloucester have something going for them, even if they would prefer the going to end after 80 minutes rather than 100. There were times here when Tuesday night rugby seemed certain to mutate into Wednesday morning rugby, but at the end of a second half lasting the best part of an hour, the Kingsholmites consolidated their third-place standing in the Premiership table and are now virtually certain of a semi-final spot.
If the West Countrymen were a little suspicious of Northampton's selection – the visitors had only one undisputed first-teamer, the England flanker Tom Wood, in their starting line-up – it was with good reason. This time last year, the Midlanders pulled a similar stunt at Bath, stacking their bench with talent in the hope the cannon-fodder could stay in touch an hour. This they did, and when the cavalry were introduced, they scared their opponents witless before losing by a point.
There was no repeat performance. Not quite. However, the second-stringers did come up with an early statement of intent. The early scrums were more than a little pugilistic, and when Adam Eustace started roughing up opponents on the floor, the combustible Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam launched himself horizontally at the miscreant. No one in the big crowd died of shock at this development. Azam could start a serious argument in an empty room, while Eustace is a one-time local favourite who launched his Kingsholm career by forming the celebrated "dustpan and brush" partnership with Andy Hazell.
Amid the fire and fury, the young Northampton prop Alex Waller opened the scoring with a try on his first Premiership start, rolling over in the right corner despite the defensive attentions of Freddie Burns and Dave Lewis. Gloucester were soon on terms, though: Tim Molenaar, their strapping centre, cut a slide-rule angle as Nicky Robinson spun out a pass from Alex Brown's line-out delivery and made the line with plenty to spare. Burns added the extras and then created a second try with an inspired kick to the Northampton in-goal area, finished off in predatory fashion by Charlie Sharples. That put Gloucester nine points ahead at the break and they had the game pretty much won early in the third quarter when Burns chipped over a penalty and Azam, with the crowd almost dragging him across the line, claimed a front-row bandit's try from a churning maul. From a handy advantage to a decisive one in the twinkling of an elderly French front-rower's slow-motion stampede.
Cue the comeback. Lee Dickson, one of last night's cavalry, claimed a scruffy try after a long goal-line siege, and had Soane Tonga'uiha, another late addition, placed the ball at the right-hand post rather than bounce it as the game moved ever deeper into stoppage time, the visitors would have left with a losing bonus point. Instead, they left with nothing.
Gloucester Tries: Molenaar, Sharples, Azam. Conversions: Burns (3). Penalties: Burns (2).
Northampton Tries: Waller, Dickson. Conversion: Geraghty. Penalty: Geraghty.
Gloucester F Burns (H Trinder 93); C Sharples, T Molenaar, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J May; N Robinson (T Voyce 38), R Lawson; N Wood (A Dickinson 67), O Azam (S Lawson 71), P Doran-Jones (R Harden 93), D Attwood, A Brown (W James 76), A Strokosch, A Qera, L Narraway (capt, B Deacon 68).
Northampton B Reihana; S Armstrong, J Ansbro, G Tonks (B Foden 84), P Diggin; S Geraghty, S Commins (L Dickson 69); A Waller (S Tonga'uiha 59), B Sharman (D Hartley 59), T Mercey (B Mujati 59), A Eustace (C Lawes 82), M Sorenson, C Clark (capt), T Wood (P Dowson 66), M Easter.
Referee W Barnes (London).
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