Gloucester Rugby: Davies' roundheads smash Northampton Saints
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 11 GLOUCESTER 27
'KEEP your powder dry', came the Nigel Davies address, for we will return in two weeks – to light the blue touch paper on our season.
Put your trust in me, and keep your newest tricks to yourselves.
The Premiership war is far more important than the LV=Cup experiment: whatever our failings, do not fret in this fortnight.
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Gloucester boss Davies ordered his players to counter intuition before their Anglo-Welsh trip to Northampton on January 26.
Borrowing a phrase coined by Oliver Cromwell just about caps a ruse as bizarre as it is brilliant.
This comprehensive victory proves Davies' unfashionable Roundheads can crash the Cavaliers' establishment party, and muscle in on the Premiership play-offs.
Two weeks ago Davies had devised a new set of attacking ploys that were working well in training, and his players were excited to unleash them.
But the former Llanelli coach asked them to indulge in some good, old-fashioned kidology.
The Cherry and Whites lulled Northampton into the falsest sense of security when the Saints triumphed 26-7 at Franklin's Gardens in that LV=Cup sideshow.
While the Saints stacked the deck, Gloucester kept their cards clamped to their chest.
On Saturday when Davies sent his men back to the scene of that brave bluff, he let them play their hand – and lay down the Royal Flush of performances.
Gloucester's most accomplished effort under their new boss caught Jim Mallinder and Northampton unawares, just one week after hitting the buffers with that home battering by Bath.
The Saints had no answers to Gloucester's thunderous defence – as regimented as it was unremitting – nor to Jonny May's startling first score.
Davies said two-try May was the 'game-changer' – if so, step forward game-savers Lua Lokotui, Akapusi Qera, Dan Robson, Tim Molenaar and Mike Tindall.
May's try brace was stunning; the 22-year-old is well and truly over his knee trouble.
But industry, ingenuity and accuracy without the ball was just as crucial.
Titanic second row Lokotui and wrecking-ball tackler Qera produced last-ditch try-saving tackles of the highest echelon.
Composed scrum-half Robson offered a vital cover challenge.
And centres Molenaar and Tindall pulled off superlative turnover penalties.
Unstoppable battering ram Sione Kalamafoni ground Saints to standstill, while bullish Tom Savage blasted huge defensive craters.
Near-flawless full-back Rob Cook slotted 17 points with the boot.
The home crowd jeered his unorthodox crouching kicking stance.
But his sharpshooting tongue-tied the cat-callers, striking a blow for the idiosyncratic method.
Cook slotted two penalties to Stephen Myler's one as Gloucester struggled to settle at the start, before Saints bungled two half-chances.
Gloucester heeded the warning shots.
Lokotui provided perfect quick lineout-tail ball, allowing Ryan Mills to drift across midfield.
Molenaar and Tindall ploughed parallel dummy runs – but Swindon's speed king May raced off his wing at full tilt.
Neither Pisi brother could fathom the training-ground play.
Spying perplexed outside centre George turning inside, May exploited the split-second and scorched through the line.
Flailing wing Ken thrust out a despairing arm, but by the time he was at full stretch, May was already gone.
Gloucester's first try in four Premiership matches was worth the wait.
Here was that powder, so prudently protected.
May's try proves Davies outwitted Mallinder – and can also successfully negotiate the absence of the Freddie Burns-Billy Twelvetrees axis.
Cook once again landed two penalties to Myler's one.
The second came after Tindall's totemic turnover.
The 34-year-old captain latched onto the ball over the tackle, riding out three Saints forwards smashing the ruck to win the penalty.
Not content with his tee-kicking tyranny, Cook then carried Gloucester from one 22 to the other.
Breaking past halfway he fed Molenaar on the left flank, who in turn found the onrushing May.
He was hauled down just shy of the Saints whitewash.
With Gloucester poised to score again, GJ Van Velze killed the ball, duly walking to the sin-bin.
Cue four-straight five-metre attacking scrums.
Gloucester chased the penalty try, with their man advantage up front.
But on scrum number four Saints stole a deserved penalty of their own.
Davies' men spent half-time fearing the cost of that unrewarded sequence: May needed just two minutes to ease Gloucester minds.
Saints full-back James Wilson fumbled a loose pass, May pounced – and this time from halfway, he was gone again before anyone could react.
Gloucester's first try owed everything to invention – the second to defensive zeal and framework.
Devoid everywhere else, Northampton reverted to their maul.
May was sin-binned for cynically hitting a drive offside, with his forwards wondering why he joined in at all.
Saints bulldozed a maul across the Gloucester line – but somehow Qera forced his body between ball and turf.
Tom Mercey thought he had scored: in fact Gloucester's Fijian flanker had forced a knock-on.
Saints did plunder a try through skipper Phil Dowson, who stretched over from short range.
Lock Samu Manoa punched Darren Dawidiuk in the aftermath, and was sin-binned for losing control.
But still Saints kept their drives coming.
Kiwi lock Mark Sorenson expected to crash over the tryline – only to be rebuffed remarkably by Lokotui.
Molenaar nipped over the top, latched on and won another priceless turnover.
Two great one-bounce touch-finders from fly-half Mills relieved pressure.
And then Cook slotted his fifth and final penalty, to seal the deal.
Delirious Cherry and Whites fans met the final whistle with a cheeky chorus of 'When the Glos Go Marching In'.
New Orleans' legendary Preservation Hall jazz troupe are so sick of 'The Monster' that they put an ever-increasing price on its request.
With years of Franklin's Gardens suffering, Kingsholm's travelling band can sympathise.
So let's not begrudge them pilfering Northampton's signature tune just this once.
NORTHAMPTON: J Wilson, K Pisi, G Pisi, D Waldouck (T May, 69), J Elliott, S Myler (R Lamb, 64), Lee Dickson (M Roberts, 75), S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 55), M Haywood, T Mercey (P Doran-Jones, 55), S Manoa, M Sorenson, P Dowson (capt), B Nutley, GJ Van Velze. Unused: R McMillan, J Craig, R Oakley.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), T Molenaar, J May, R Mills, D Robson (J Cowan, 60 [M Thomas, 77]), N Wood (D Murphy, 69), D Dawidiuk, R Harden, L Lokotui, W James (M Cox, 67), T Savage, A Qera (P Buxton, 75), S Kalamafoni. Replacements: T d'Apice, , Y Thomas, , , , H Trinder, M Thomas.
REFEREE: Martin Fox.