Gloucester Rugby v Northampton Saints: Billy Twelvetrees last gasp winner
NERVELESS Billy Twelvetrees shouldered the burden of a captain's decision to land the winning penalty with the game's final strike. The unfazed centre shrugged off any confusion and all discussion, composed himself and set the seal on Gloucester's first league victory of the new campaign.
Frontline goal-kicker Freddie Burns had already been substituted.
Kingsholm held its breath and watched on, waiting to see who would win the penalty-goal argument: accurate midfielder Twelvetrees or sharpshooting full-back Rob Cook.
Twelvetrees stepped up and blasted Gloucester to victory, ensuring the Cherry and Whites avoided their worst opening sequence in the Premiership.
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The 24-year-old later revealed there was never any issue over who would take that crucial shot at goal.
Never mind Burns, with Tom Savage already off the field, Twelvetrees was captain at the pivotal moment.
It was the British Lion's decision alone: he chose to lead by example.
"To be honest with you I didn't even look at Cooky," explained Gloucester's match-winner.
"Sav was off the pitch so I was captain, and I just thought I'd step up and do it – I love those opportunities and that's why we practise goal-kicking so hard in the week.
"Luckily for me I was able to put it over, to get the win for the boys. We deserved it."
Few will argue the merit in Gloucester's victory, but Northampton and the neutrals bemoaned the manner.
Jamie Elliott's 79th-minute try looked set to break the Kingsholm men's resolve, and consign them to a third-straight league defeat.
When Stephen Myler converted to steal a one-point lead, Gloucester had less than a minute to make amends.
Nigel Davies' side forced a Saints knock-on at the restart – with Northampton claiming at least four Gloucester men offside at the drop-out.
Then the Cherry and Whites won a penalty at the scrum.
Gloucester will tell you they had the forward momentum and deserved the penalty sooner.
Saints were left to decry the issue of whether Ben Morgan kicked the ball back into the scrum.
Half-back Lee Dickson claimed he thought the ball was loose and chased round.
Referee Martin Fox judged him offside – and Twelvetrees did the rest.
Gloucester's composed pivot created a vacuum for the fuss, admitting afterwards there was no time to fret either Elliott's try or the penalty circumstances.
He continued: "Under our posts with 20 seconds to go we just said, 'Let's get the ball back'.
"We knew if we did that we would have a chance of winning it, however that would be with a chance for a try or whatever.
"That chance came, the forwards were immense and luckily I kicked it over.
"I'm just delighted for the boys – we really needed that."
For all the final-play dramatics, Gloucester should have been out of sight way before the denouement.
Ben Foden stepped Akapusi Qera for the softest of opening tries.
Gloucester hit back with little delay but could not convert pressure into points.
The Cherry and Whites needed eight attacking platforms in the Saints 22 to register their first try, and that only came on the nick of half-time.
The home side could not even capitalise on the 21st-minute yellow card for Saints number eight Sam Dickinson, who upended an airborne James Simpson-Daniel.
The pressure was all theirs, but Henry Trinder knocked on with the line at his mercy after a defence-turning grubber from Burns. And then Sione Kalamafoni fired a pass to no one when he should have sent Simpson-Daniel into the left corner.
Charlie Sharples ended the profligacy by wriggling into the right corner, after Burns produced a fine midfield run-around and Cook expertly straightened the line.
Astute Jimmy Cowan – in his best Gloucester match – tapped a penalty in the Saints 22 after the interval, sending Twelvetrees powering across the whitewash.
After all that first-half faff, Gloucester could almost scent control. But then the old driving-maul deficiency haunted Gloucester again, with Samu Manoa rising last from the pile, with ball and try.
Gloucester felt flummoxed by control without scoreboard dominance.
The Cherry and Whites needed a touch of magic: so who else would deliver but chief conjurer Simpson-Daniel.
The 31-year-old's superlative and scything midfield break stunned Saints, and probably a few team-mates too – but not hugely-impressive debutant Elliott Stooke.
Sinbad powered towards the line, but had the presence of mind to realise he would not finish – so flipped an offload to lurking lock Stooke. The former Stow on the Wold second-row crashed home and Gloucester started dreaming of a victory canter.
Saints quickly shocked Gloucester out of that reverie, Luther Burrell's forward pass botching a nailed-on try for George North.
But the Wales powerhouse wing's half-field break led to Elliott's late try with Northampton celebrating their turnaround.
Then Twelvetrees and high drama with a happy ending.
Rob Cook: Cut a vital holding line for Sharples’ try.
Charlie Sharples: Fine finish, and solid aside.
Henry Trinder: Quick feet, dangerous and now powerful too, unlucky not to score.
Billy Twelvetrees: Neat try and match-winning penalty more than offset the odd wayward punt.
James Simpson-Daniel: Only Sinbad could have made Stooke’s try.
Freddie Burns: Always a threat, improvised chip-and-volley sums up maverick talent.
Jimmy Cowan: Kept it simple to provide quick ball in his best Gloucester game yet.
Dan Murphy: Rode out early scrum trouble impressively.
Darren Dawidiuk: Huge workload in the loose eased the odd set-piece wobble.
Rupert Harden: Eased past early set-piece issues just like Murphy.
Tom Savage (capt): Workaholic in the loose; boss Davies wanted more at lineout.
Elliott Stooke: A debutant who looked like a seasoned pro.
Matt Kvesic: Knows how and when to push the breakdown boundaries.
Akapusi Qera: Wrong-footed for Foden try, but bullish aside.
Sione Kalamafoni: Much improved from his Sale frustrations.
Gloucester: Tries: Sharples (39), Twelvetrees (42), Stooke (67). Cons: Burns (42). Pens: Burns 2 (14, 55), Twelvetrees (80).
Northampton: B Foden, J Elliott, J Wilson (G Pisi, 46), L Burrell, G North, S Myler, K Fotuali'I (L Dickson, 54), A Waller (E Waller, 68), D Hartley (capt) (M Heywood, 73), T Mercey (G Denman, 68), S Manoa (P Dowson, 63), C Day, T Wood, C Clark, S Dickinson. Unused: GJ Van Velze, K Pisi Tries: Foden (6), Manoa (45), Elliott (79); Cons: Myler (6, 45, 79); Pen: Myler (37) Yellow card: Dickinson (21)
REFEREE: Martin Fox