Experienced Northampton end battling Gloucester's LV=Cup hopes
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 26 GLOUCESTER 7
SAINTS’ set-piece supremacy ground Gloucester into submission at Franklin’s Garden’s – and out of the LV=Cup.
Scrum and lineout troubles restricted the Cherry and Whites to breakout attacks: unable to claim a field-position foothold, the visitors were subdued by their more experienced foes.
Gloucester’s second defeat in LV=Cup group action ends their chances of progressing to the semi-finals, despite hosting Bath at Kingsholm next weekend.
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Fit-again fly-half Ryan Mills capped his first match action for 218 days with a neat try, but the score he converted himself was all Gloucester could muster, despite several impressive breaks.
Luther Burrell claimed Saints’ only first-half try as Gloucester defended manfully.
But it was prop Alex Waller’s score just past the hour-mark that condemned Gloucester to defeat.
The Saints loosehead stole round a ruck on the Gloucester whitewash, after a trademark impressive driving maul.
Saints fielded a far stronger line-up than Gloucester, who chose to hand youngsters and players returning from injuries and lay-offs their chance to impress.
Disappointed with defeat, Gloucester’s assistant coach Carl Hogg was impressed with several elements of the performance – and quite phlegmatic about the whole affair.
Hogg explained: “I thought our defence was outstanding at times and we certainly worked them hard on that front.
“But their experience and set-piece control told on us.
“It denied us any real field position, and so we had to try to launch attacks from deep.
“It was great to see Andy Hazell and Ryan Mills back, and new signing Lua Lokotui showed up well too.”
Every time Gloucester broke into Saints territory in the first half they threatened – the problem was those forays were too few and far between.
The home side dominated the first 40 minutes, with Lamb’s orchestration pulling Gloucester apart at times.
The imp from Gloucester still has that galling propensity to take the wrong option at the crucial time though – and the Cherry and Whites were relieved on several occasions when Lamb chose little grubbers when he should have kept ball in hand.
Whenever Saints ploughed straight and true, Gloucester had problems.
And Dario Chistolini had all sorts of troubles at the scrum, unable to contain Alex Waller and taking the last resort of illegally binding on the Saints loosehead’s arm.
Lamb opened the scoring with a penalty after a loose Steph Reynolds kick gifted Ben Foden an easy counter-attack.
Shane Monahan then produced a fine try-saving cover tackle after a delicious delayed pass from Lamb.
Two poor clearance kicks in quick succession invited more pressure, but Lamb’s iffy calls wasted the opportunities.
A cheap knock-on from Lamb then wasted another good platform – but Chistolini was penalised amid his scrum nightmare, and Lamb doubled the home advantage from the tee.
Gloucester needed a response – and Monahan’s searing counter provided it.
Martyn Thomas’ neat pass allowed Monahan to cut round George Pisi on the outside, and set the Cherry and Whites away.
Gloucester set camp deep in the Saints 22, Mills thought about spinning wide – then realised he was up against Lamb.
Two fly-halves but this was always a mismatch – and the well-muscled Gloucester pivot duly bulldozed the competition.
Mills’ conversion pilfered the lead, and finally settled Gloucester to their task.
But straight away the visitors were on the back-foot again – and a delicate sleight of hand from Lamb sent the entire Gloucester backline one way – while centre Luther Burrell and the ball went the other.
Lamb’s misdirection was so sharp that Burrell had a clear saunter to the whitewash from the edge of the 22.
Saints continued to press after that Burrell score, and the former Leeds centre had another half-chance, but knocked on in contact.
Tim Molenaar’s bullish break from his own 22 incited a late Gloucester rally, Dave Lewis’ chip in behind pressurising the Saints defence.
But the home side handled the clearance, and that was half-time.
Ben Foden and George Pisi butchered scoring chances as Saints picked up where they had left off after the break.
The home side had to settle for a Stephen Myler penalty instead, but they still dominated that third quarter.
Replacement Mike Tindall cut a smart line after a lineout, only for Lee Dickson to stymie the move by purposely playing the ball offside.
Mills took a shot at goal but his effort just eased past the wrong side of the right-hand upright.
Myler doubled his penalty tally when Gloucester were marched back at a rate of knots at a scrum.
Northampton attacked again immediately, Gloucester conceded a penalty at the breakdown – and Saints kicked to the corner.
A regulation catch-and-drive hauled Northampton to the cusp of the tryline, and then Waller nipped across. Game over.
Gloucester rallied and produced their finest phase-play of the game.
A driving break from Monahan carried Gloucester to the Northampton 22, but the visitors just could not find a finish.
No shame in result or performance, and Gloucester’s young guns can be proud of their application.
But as assistant coach Hogg predicted, the Premiership game at the same ground in two weeks’ time will be an entirely different story.
NORTHAMPTON: Tries: Burrell (33), Waller (67) Cons: Lamb (33), Myler (67) Pens: Lamb 2 (10, 23), Myler (56, 63)
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Mills (25) Cons: Mills (25).
NORTHAMPTON: B Foden, J Wilson, G Pisi, L Burrell (T Collins, 68), T May, R Lamb (S Myler, 54), M Roberts (L Dickson, 54), A Waller (E Waller, 74), M Haywood (R McMillan, 74), T Mercey (S Tonga’uiha, 60), M Sorenson (B Nutley, 66), C Day, S Manoa (J Craig, 66), P Dowson (capt), R Oakley.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas (R Cook, 74), S Reynolds, H Trinder (M Tindall, 41), T Molenaar, S Monahan, R Mills, D Lewis (J Cowan, 54), Y Thomas (D Murphy, 54), K Britton (T d’Apice, 64), D Chistolini (T Heard, 39), L Lokotui (T Savage, 54), E Stooke, P Buxton (capt), A Hazell, G Evans (R Moriarty, 64).
REFEREE: Luke Pearce (RFU).