Gloucester cement top-three spot
PREMIERSHIP REPORT: A first-half Mark Atkinson hat-trick ensured Gloucester pressed home their top four credentials with a thrilling 40-31 victory against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
Atkinson’s treble was the fastest by a Gloucester player in Premiership history and, along with Ruan Ackermann’s first-half effort, sealed the bonus point before the break.
Saints had earlier taken the lead through Taqele Naiyaravoro, while Piers Francis and Cobus Reinach also touched down, but found themselves trailing 26-19 at the interval.
The two sides traded a further two tries after the restart, with Gloucester’s Ed Slater and Saints’ Reece Marshall also got on the board, before Franco Marais made sure of the result.
Rory Hutchinson scored a superb solo try but it was not enough to prevent Gloucester claiming a bonus-point triumph, which helps cement Johan Ackermann’s side in third position.
The visitors did not have it all their own way, however, as Saints got off to a dream start when Naiyaravoro crashed over after just six minutes, swatting away three players en route.
Biggar was unable to add the extras and Saints quickly found their lead turned into a deficit after Gloucester hit back through Atkinson, with Billy Twelvetrees converting.
Saints responded almost immediately as Francis grabbed his side’s second of the game after pouncing on the loose ball, dropped by Jaco Kriel, and racing over the line.
This time Biggar was successful from the tee to put Saints back in front, but their lead lasted just minutes as defence continued to take a backseat in the opening 15 minutes.
Gloucester won a line-out in Northampton’s half and Marais fed Atkinson, who stormed through a huge gap in the hosts’ backline to dot down for his second try.
The Cherry & Whites were given further encouragement when Naiyaravoro was sin-binned for a high tackle – and they soon took advantage of the extra man on the half-hour mark.
Once again, the move originated from a Gloucester line-out success and after Atkinson came close to bagging his hat-trick, Ackermann managed to score under the posts.
But despite being down to 14 men, Saints closed the gap again after Teimana Harrison charged towards the line before sending Reinach clear to score, with Biggar converting.
The momentum swung back in Gloucester’s favour on the cusp of half-time, though, with Atkinson grabbing his hat-trick after excellent work from Kriel in the build-up to make it 26-19 at the break.
Gloucester continued to press home their dominance after the restart with a fifth try from Slater, converted by Twelvetrees, before Saints picked up their bonus-point score through Marshall.
Marais then made sure of the result for the visitors with their sixth try of the afternoon, while Hutchinson completed the scoring with a late consolation for Saints.
For Northampton Saints
Tries: Naiyaravoro, Francis, Reinach, Marshall, Hutchinson
Cons: Francis, Biggar 2
Tries: Atkinson 3, Ackermann, Slater, Marais
Cons: Twelvetrees 5
Yellow card: Taqele Naiyaravoro (Northampton Saints, 28)
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison (captain), 7 Heinrich Brüssow, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Ken Pisi.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Charlie Sharples, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Jake Polledri, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Tom Seabrook.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Matthew O’Grady & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff.