Premiership: Northampton Saints withstand Gloucester fightback to boost play-off hopes, while Saracens extend lead
Northampton Saints secured a crucial victory in their quest to secure a play-off place, overcoming Gloucester 41-34 at Franklin’s Gardens.
Midway through the second period, the Saints were in complete control, going 41-15 up through Alex Waller, Callum Braley, Alex Moon, Sam Graham, Tommy Freeman and Fraser Dingwall tries.
The Cherry and Whites had touched down three times via Sebastian Blake (twice) and Ollie Thorley, but the game looked lost going into the final 10 minutes.
However, three quick fire scores gave them two bonus-points as Jamal Ford-Robinson crossed the whitewash on two occasions and Matias Alemanno also went over.
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After a James Grayson penalty opened the scoring for the hosts, the visitors were first over the whitewash with a trademark driving maul that saw Blake touch down.
Saints responded well as Waller crashed over from short range for Saints’ first try of the day.
Gloucester piled on the pressure in the Saints’ 22 as half-time approached, which featured Alemanno being magnificently held up by Graham, and the barrelling Albert Tuisue’s touch down ruled to have been dropped by the TMO.
George Skivington’s men eventually grabbed another try in classic driving maul fashion as Blake added another score to his total for the day to level things up at 10-10 at the interval.
Saints were fast out of the blocks in the second half as a marauding break from James Ramm got the home side in the Gloucester 22, before Braley caught the visitors’ guards napping around the breakdown with a successful reach for the line.
The Cherry and Whites responded strongly through Thorley, who received the ball in the wide channel from Chris Harris to score with ease following some counter-attacking brilliance from Santiago Carreras.
Shortly afterwards, Moon found himself one-on-one with Lloyd Evans as the ball was thrown into the wide channel metres from the line, and predictably steamed over the smaller man to stretch out Saints’ lead.
A spectacular Ramm 50/22 was the perfect foundation for Phil Dowson’s side to secure their bonus point as a ball into the pocket from Braley allowed Graham to drive over from short range.
Saints continued their march as Freeman capitalised on an Evans fumble by sweeping up the ball and sprinting over from the halfway line uncontested.
The hosts’ sixth was superb as they showcased some beautiful handling in an attack littered with thrilling offloads that saw Dingwall touch down.
Gloucester’s late flurry ensured the visitors did not leave empty-handed, as Ford-Robinson carried over from short range following a lineout.
Alemanno secured the away side’s bonus point with a clean run-in facilitated by a Lewis Ludlow offload.
Ford-Robinson added another in the closing play with a pick-and-drive metres from the line, before Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion earned a second bonus point.
Leaders Saracens beat 14-man Newcastle
An early red card for Newcastle’s Greg Peterson ruined any hopes of his side causing an upset as Saracens moved 12 points clear of Sale at the top of the Premiership table after a 29-23 home win.
Tenth-placed Newcastle were level at 10-10 when Peterson was dismissed for a high tackle with the table-toppers taking advantage by scoring five tries but it was the visitors who emerged with the most credit with a heroic second-half display.
Alex Lewington scored two of the home side’s tries, Eroni Mawi, Ivan van Zyl and Theo Dan the others with Alex Goode kicking two conversions.
Philip van der Walt and Adam Radwan scored Newcastle’s tries with Brett Connon adding three penalties and two conversions to leave them just two points ahead of Bath at the bottom of the table.
It took less than two minutes for Saracens to open the scoring. Falcons lost possession on halfway for Dan to make a telling burst before prop, Mawi, brushed aside some weak tackling for his second try in successive games.
Three minutes later, Connon responded with a penalty for Newcastle before they took the lead with a close-range try from Van der Walt.
Saracens were soon level when Matias Orlando missed a tackle on Olly Hartley to put his side’s defence on the back foot and when the ball was recycled a long pass gave Lewington the chance to evade Connon’s weak effort to score.
After 17 minutes, Newcastle suffered a huge blow when their American international lock, Peterson, was red carded for a head-high challenge on Dan.
The hosts soon capitalised when, from a line-out drive, Dan made an initial burst before a long pass from Van Zyl created a second for Lewington.
Goode was again off target with his third conversion attempt before Connon kept Falcons in contention with his second penalty.
Saracens’ bonus-point try arrived when a well-timed pass from Billy Vunipola sent Andy Christie through a gap with Van Zyl on hand to crash over.
The home side soon added a fifth from Dan to have the game almost in the bag by half-time when they led 29-13, leaving their 14-man opponents with a mountain to climb.
After the restart, Newcastle’s woes continued when they lost Orlando to injury but Radwan prevented them from falling further behind with an excellent cover tackle on Ben Earl.
Frequent substitutions disrupted the flow of play, which rendered the first 30 minutes of the second half scoreless, as a huge defensive effort from Newcastle continued to frustrate the hosts.
Remarkably, the only scores after the interval went Falcons’ way as their opponents were caught napping by a quickly-taken short penalty which enabled Radwan to run an unopposed 50 metres to score before Connon secured a deserved bonus point with a last-minute penalty.
READ MORE: Bristol Bears edge bottom side Bath to claim derby spoils
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