Gloucester 35 Northampton Saints 30: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
For some inside Kingsholm on Saturday afternoon, what unfolded would have been scarcely believable.
But for Saints supporters it was scarily predictable.
Because, for the third game in succession, the black, green and gold not only surrendered a lead but saw their dominance count for nothing more than three tries and a single point.
Against Sale, Exeter and Gloucester, Saints have been one try from glory and a bonus-point success that would have breathed such life into their top-four bid.
But against Sale, Exeter and Gloucester, they have been denied not only that telling fourth score but the winning feeling that would have come with it.
Boss Chris Boyd said his players were ‘hurting like hell’ in the away changing room on Saturday evening.
And the pain was certainly palpable for everyone of a Saints persuasion.
How could this have happened again?
Boyd says each loss had its own reasons, but whatever you feel they are, the common denominator has been defeat.
Saints have just not been able to get over the line when it has mattered most.
They have played some superb rugby in each encounter, including registering a try-of-the-season contender from Tom Collins at Kingsholm.
It was a magic moment, one fit to win any match.
And it looked like it would, with Saints sitting pretty at 27-14 up with less than half an hour to go.
But then came the replacements for both sides and the concession of a string of penalties from Saints.
It led to a penalty try and, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, a yellow card.
All that momentum Saints had built up came crashing down.
And the Gloucester pack crashed over their try line from another inexorable maul - something the Cherry and Whites have become specialists at - to strike the fatal blow.
Saints could have strung together another special breakaway try to win it before the end.
But they didn’t.
They were once again left haunted by could-haves and should-haves.
It was agonising.
But let the last 20 minutes not tell the entire tale of this tape.
Because what happened in the first 40 was just as important.
Saints played pretty much the entire first half in home territory, prompting one Gloucester observer behind the press bench to conclude ‘we have been terrible’.
And they had.
But make no mistake, Saints made them look that way.
Boyd’s boys were totally dominant, but - again you might have read this before - they had to work far harder for their points than the opposition did.
Somehow Gloucester were only six points down at the interval, having barely had the ball and barely been in the Saints 22.
A shocking, rushed attempted long lineout five metres from their own line, put Saints in trouble from the off and gave Gloucester the gift of a simple seven points.
You feared what would come next, but Saints looked undeterred as they bounced back and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck.
And just when they seemed to really have it in their grip, they gave away a quick and easy try to reduce their lead from 20-7 to 20-14 at the break.
Gloucester would not have been able to believe their luck. To only be six points down, having hardly landed a blow.
But here they were, kept in the game by Saints.
Again, you might have read that somewhere before.
Saints flew out of the blocks in the second half, making amends in scintillating fashion with that Collins score.
But then came the collapse, like an England batting line-up.
And in the end, it was the opposition players and supporters who roared when the final whistle was blown.
What a miserable sound that must be for the Saints players who poured so much into this, and the weeks before.
Whatever they try, they just can’t finish the job late on.
It takes us back to the dark days of December 2020, when Boyd said his team were ‘finding new ways to lose’ as they endured a shocking 12-game losing streak.
And here they are again now, having lost nine of their past 11 matches in all competitions, beating only the beleaguered Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons during that time.
It can’t be ability and it can’t be effort because Saints have been in matches right until the end.
So it has to be mindset, to slump to defeat from such positions of strength.
Assistant coach Matt Ferguson said as much in a recent interview with this publication.
Saints supporters now expect their team to lose leads, so you can hardly blame the players for feeling the same when the pressure comes on.
They may be professional athletes but they are also human beings.
The question is, how do Saints break this cycle of despair and get back to where they feel they belong in English rugby’s pecking order?
The solution to that is way beyond a humble sports writer.
Even Phil Dowson didn’t seem to know when asked last week as he admitted if he had the answers he would have solved the problem by now.
That problem will still be his to solve this summer and Saints will have to find a way to hit the reset button either then or, preferably, before.
Because if they don’t, there will be many more entertaining yet excruciating days ahead.
How they rated...
A better day at full-back for the skilful centre as he handled the high ball well when he had to and also beat defenders for fun with ball in hand... 7
Started the move that led to Tom Collins' try and always kept Gloucester on their toes with his speed and direct running... 6.5
A strong presence for Saints, and he finished well again to get his team their first try of the game... 7
Plenty of physicality from the skipper as he not only provided a try but scored one, showing his desire to push his side forward... 7
Scored a try-of-the-season contender and his pace from deep was menacing as he helped to not only attack but to relieve pressure at times... 7
A steady showing from the fly-half, who made most of his kicks, handled the high ball and kept Saints' attacking game flowing... 7
ALEX MITCHELL - CHRON STAR MAN
Set up one try and was a real spark in a back-line that deserved to have earned a win. Produced not one but two 50:22s to give Saints a platform, but they often squandered it... 7
A tougher day for the talented young prop as he was sin-binned during the second half and came up against experienced campaigner Fraser Balmain at scrum time, but he will learn a lot from this... 6
Not one of his better days of the season as his early lineout was picked off by Gloucester, but some of his footwork in open play was tidy again... 6
Was left exposed for the Tom Seabrook try that gave Gloucester new hope but didn't do too much wrong overall and battled for a long spell... 6
An improved performance from the reigning player of the season as he carried hard, and one of his offloads helped Saints to grab a first-half try... 7
Was always looking to puncture Gloucester with power, runs and offloads, and he largely did well until being replaced in the second half... 7
A strong showing from the young forward as he made a couple of huge carries during the first half and displayed a real hunger... 7
Came into the team at late notice and battled hard for his team before being replaced. Ran into trouble on one occasion but largely did well... 6.5
Found himself on the wrong side of the referee on a few occasions but when he got the chance to run at Gloucester, he made good ground... 6.5