Saints are still flying thanks to volcanic Ashton

Northampton Saints 38 Gloucester 23

There was no danger of The Volcano erupting yesterday. Lesley Vainikolo had been rendered dormant on Friday by a dead leg, leaving Charlie Sharples to plug the vent on the wing for Gloucester. The visitors had their moments in a pulsating encounter but were ultimately smothered by a cloud of Ashton tries.

There were three of them for Northampton's right wing, Chris Ashton, who is by some distance the most potent try-scoring force in the Guinness Premiership. The first two came courtesy of his blistering pace and the third was the result of an extraordinary act of generosity by Bruce Reihana, who hared across the whitewash in the final minute and then waited for his team-mate to catch up before presenting him with his hat-trick score. Ashton, who was blooded by England in Paris last month, has scored 15 tries in 17 Premiership appearances this season, the last of them yesterday earning his side a bonus point that helped put them two points ahead of Leicester at the top of the table.

"It was good to finish off like that," said Jim Mallinder, Saints' director of rugby. His team might lose pole position today, when their East Midlands rivals are in action up at Newcastle, but this win guaranteed their place in the semi-finals of the play-offs and eased the disappointment of their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat away to Munster last weekend.

It might have been different had the Cherry and Whites not been routinely picked off and turned over when they attacked, which was not infrequently. As it was, after an early exchange of penalties the away side's defence was pierced by Ashton's arrow-straight dart up the middle after the excellent Courtney Lawes plucked line-out possession on the right. With Stephen Myler converting that try and then landing a second penalty, Northampton were 13-3 in the lead before Gloucester started to click, in the final 10 minutes of the opening half. First James Simpson-Daniel, a sometime England wing, went on a surging diagonal run and fed Sharples for a score in the right corner. Nicky Robinson converted. Then, after Myler nailed another penalty, came the bizarre spectacle of the referee, Andrew Small, awarding the Saints a 22-metre drop-out after the home centre James Downey had deliberately swatted the ball beyond the dead-ball line after chasing a kick with Sharples.

If that was a blow for Bryan Redpath's side, worse was to come. After five minutes of all-out attack at the start of the second half they were struck by a try-scoring bolt from the blue, Myler and Ashton combining to set up Dylan Hartley, the Northampton hooker and captain, for a gallop to the line. Five minutes later Lawes drove the ball up the middle and the scrum-half Lee Dickson provided the feed for Ashton to race over.

At 30-13 that looked to be that but Robinson kicked a penalty, Hartley was sent to the sin-bin for deliberate spoiling and the Gloucester lock Dave Attwood twisted over from close range. Robinson converted and the gap was down to seven points. It made things interesting, but only fleetingly so. Shane Geraghty, a replacement for Myler, kicked a penalty to stretch the difference to two scores. And then, with 45 seconds left on the clock, came the gift-wrapped hat-trick clincher for the red-hot Ashton.

Northampton Saints B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Myler (S Geraghty, 61), L Dickson (A Dickens, 75); S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), E Murray (B Mujati, 61), I Fernandez-Lobbe (B Sharman, 58; M Easter, 62), J Kruger, C Lawes, P Dowson, R Wilson.

Gloucester F Burns (O Morgan, 56); C Sharples, J May (T Voyce, 56), M Tindall (capt), J Simpson-Daniel; N Robinson, R Lawson; N Wood (A Dickinson, 46), O Azam (S Lawson, 40), P Doran-Jones (P Capdevielle, 61); D Attwood, A Brown; A Strokosch, J Boer (P Buxton, 53), A Eustace.

Referee: A Small (London).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor