NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 11 GLOUCESTER 27
SAVVY boss Nigel Davies masterminded a priceless victory for Gloucester that tees up a true tilt at the Premiership’s play-offs.
A win to save Gloucester’s season: that’s no understatement.
Smart Welshman Davies outmanoeuvred his opposite number Jim Mallinder, in a mental chess-move triumph that started when Gloucester lost at Northampton in the LV=Cup two weeks ago.
The ex-Llanelli boss will bat away the credit – but when the Saints swatted Gloucester aside 26-7 at Franklin’s Gardens, Davies was scheming his victory blueprint for the return.
The former management consultant did admit he sketched a specific plan for this league clash.
But he also praised his players to the hilt for pulling it off to the letter.
Davies tipped his hat to ‘game-changer’ Jonny May for his two tries – but he hailed a regimented defensive performance as measured as it was ferocious.
The Kingsholm boss promised Gloucester would wash away the hurt of last week’s horrid 32-5 home hammering by derby rivals Bath – his men delivered.
Davies explained: “We played them two weeks earlier, and after that I was quite clear about what we had to do to win this game.
“We just spoke about that, and then we delivered it today.
“It was a good position, being absolutely clear about what we needed – but the boys delivered it too.
“In each of the last two games we had given away 18 penalties, and if we’d done that here we would have lost.
“So discipline was key: I thought we were very accurate in the contact area as well.
“That control allows us to be very effective there, and we were very strong defensively as well.
“But having players like Jonny May back makes a difference as well.
“He’s the type of player that can change a game in a tight arm-wrestle, and that’s what he did.
“That’s a set move, and it’s always pleasing to score from a set play like that.
“We’ve refocused on a few areas, tightened up on a few things.
“And we were intent on making sure that paid off here in the league.
“It paid dividends for us today, that’s for sure.”
Resurgent Gloucester made a mockery of last week’s Bath disaster, to set their season right back on course.
May’s two scores and 17 points from the accurate boot of Rob Cook sealed a season-turning victory for Nigel Davies’ men.
From nadir to zenith in a week: not bad at all.
Davies said Gloucester ‘kept their powder dry’ in the East Midlands two weeks ago.
Speed king May’s first score was the startling proof.
Gargantuan workaholic Lua Lokotui claimed a lineout off the top – and the clean, quick ball set the visitors off on a training-ground ploy.
This was a new move, concocted for this very tie: Mills drifted across the line, offering both Tindall and Molenaar on dummy runners.
May was the destination though, and his shallow cut-line fooled both Pisi brothers.
He darted past George who had misread the angle, and left Ken trailing in his wake.
The try stunned the Saints almost as much as Cook’s croucher kicking style.
The home crowd started the day wolf-whistling his unique approach – but ended it with the breath sucked out of them.
Cook landed four penalties in the first half, to trump Stephen Myler’s two from three attempts.
Gloucester’s fourth penalty was the product of a superlative turnover from skipper Mike Tindall.
Latching onto the ball over the tackle, he rode three arriving Saints men hitting the ruck, for priceless reward. It stemmed a dangerous counter-attack, and started a trend among his team-mates.
Full-back then launched a fine counter that nearly generated another score.
Molenaar and May carried Gloucester to the cusp of the tryline – and then GJ Van Velze killed the ball.
The South African back-rower trudged to the sin-bin, and Gloucester started a scrum demolition job.
Capitalising on the extra man, Gloucester turned the screw, but could not rip it clean away.
After winning three penalties, Gloucester conceded one of their own on the fourth scrummage – just when they were licking their penalty-try lips.
The half-time whistle left Gloucester wondering whether they would rue that missed opportunity.
That man May allayed any such fears straight after the break though.
Saints overcomplicated on halfway, full-back James Wilson fumbled a loose pass – and in a flash May was gone.
May admitted in the week he was still finding his feet after knee trouble – not any more.
The uncatchable paceman doubled Gloucester’s try-count at the crucial time.
Northampton are far too powerful to capitulate though, and quickly reverted to their rolling maul.
A series of driven lineouts put Gloucester under duress.
And that man May was sin-binned for hitting a drive at the side as Gloucester almost reach desperation stakes.
The Saints craved claret, and went for the drive again.
Tom Mercey was propelled over the line – but thunderous Fijian Akapusi Qera pulled off a remarkable try-saving tackle.
Somehow he put body between ball and turf, even forcing Mercey to knock on.
The hosts did eventually claim driving reward, captain Phil Dowson stretching over for their sole score.
But in the aftermath Samu Manoa was sin-binned for punching Darren Dawidiuk.
The resulting penalty on halfway eased the onslaught, and once again Northampton were a man light.
Still Gloucester faced a barrage – but the teak-tough visitors were anything but brittle.
New lock Lokotui had a monstrous game, capped by a try-saving tackle on Mark Sorenson.
The former Wellington Lion kept the ex-Bay of Plenty skipper off the whitewash, and then Molenaar nipped over the top to steal a turnover penalty.
Jimmy Cowan suffered a nasty-looking knee injury in the dying throes, after a tidy cameo.
And when Cook slotted a penalty with seven minutes to play, Gloucester had this one tied up.
Gloucester keep telling everyone they are top-four material – here, they proved it.
NORTHAMPTON: Tries: Dowson (54). Pens: Myler 2 (6, 27).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: May 2 (20, 42). Cons: Cook (42). Pens: Cook 5 (8, 11, 32, 35, 73)
NORTHAMPTON: GJ Van Velze (36), Manoa (54).
GLOUCESTER: May (47).
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.