Saints end 2019 with thrilling win against Gloucester
Cobus Reinach scored twice as Saints finished 2019 with a flourish at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Boyd's side held on to beat Gloucester 33-26 in a hugely entertaining Gallagher Premiership encounter, in which Cherry and Whites wing Louis Rees-Zammit scored a hat-trick.
Saints had bounced back from going 7-0 down to a Rees-Zammit try early on as Mike Haywood's effort and eight points from the boot of Dan Biggar put them 13-7 up at the break.
Biggar was forced off with a leg injury at the interval and the injury problems continued for Saints during the second half as they were forced into several backline reshuffles.
But they took control with two Reinach tries, only for Gloucester to keep fighting and keep scoring.
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Chris Harris's effort was added to by another two from Rees-Zammit and Saints were holding on.
But Francis landed a penalty and Saints then gathered the restart before holding their nerve and retaining the ball to see out the game, and the year, with a smile.
The match hadn't started so well though as there was an injury worry inside the first minute. Biggar appeared to be in real pain due to a leg injury, which had to be strapped up.
Gloucester immediately applied some pressure thanks to a penalty for a high tackle from Taqele Naiyaravoro, but Saints stood tall to turn the ball over in their own 22.
However, the hosts were failing to exit effectively and after Gloucester gobbled up a Reinach kick, Mark Atkinson put in a grubber that bounced into the path of Rees-Zammit who scored.
Danny Cipriani landed the conversion to make it 7-0 and Gloucester then did some good work at the other end, shutting Saints down with some strong defending.
Cipriani did well to strip Naiyaravoro of the ball as the big wing tried to ground the ball, denying Saints a score they desperately wanted.
Gloucester lost Charlie Sharples to injury but Saints' frustration continued as they continued to struggle to get anything out of their territorial dominance.
Saints were on top at the scrum, winning two penalties in that area in the opening 25 minutes, and they eventually got some points on the board through a Biggar kick.
Gloucester were struggling to get out, with the hugely influential Courtney Lawes hunting them down at every opportunity.
Saints were swarming forward, putting immense pressure on the red and white wall, and they eventually found the score thanks to Haywood, who was on the back of a dominant lineout drive.
Biggar kicked and Saints deservedly led with seven minutes to go until half-time.
They were now firmly in the ascendancy, starting to gather speed, and Teimana Harrison delivered a sizeable hand-off before Biggar landed another penalty.
It meant Saints held a 13-7 advantage at half-time and they were forced into a change as Ahsee Tuala came on for Biggar with full-back George Furbank switching to fly-half.
And Furbank immediately steered the ship well, with physicality added by the likes of Harrison and Tom Wood.
It allowed Saints to get within range and Reinach finished superbly, slaloming his way through to score.
Francis kicked the conversion to make it 20-7 and Saints thought they had scored again when the onrushing Reinach picked up after fine work from Tom Collins and dived over.
But Collins was deemed to have been marginally offside in the build-up, having been just in front of Tuala when the grubber was put in.
Gloucester then enjoyed a huge swing as centre Harris went in for the score, with the Saints supporters angered as they felt there was a forward pass in the build-up.
Cipriani kicked to cut the gap to just seven points and Gloucester were now looking to level it up as they came forward again.
But it was Saints who hit them with a sucker punch as Reinach did brilliantly to kick ahead twice and then gather before racing home.
Francis converted and it was 27-14 with Saints having half an hour to pursue the bonus-point score.
But Collins had to do some brilliant last-ditch defending to stop Matt Banahan scoring before Tuala won a crucial penalty at the resulting ruck.
The game was wide open now though and Gloucester found space on the left to send Rees-Zammit in for his second score.
Cipriani converted and the gap was just six points as Saints sent on Henry Taylor and David RIbbans for their return from injury.
It was like an episode of Casualty as Saints' backline became unrecognisable from the one that started the game, and even a limping Reinach had to come back on as Andy Symons went off for a HIA.
Gloucester had suffered a blow of their own as prop Josh Hohneck was sin-binned for swinging an arm into the neck of Symons, which caused the injury.
And Saints pushed on, winning a penalty, which Francis kicked to make it 30-21.
Both sides were really struggling with injury problems, putting square pegs in round holes as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes.
Hohneck came back on with his side having done a good job in his absence and they almost scored soon after, only to be denied by sensational try-saving tackles from Lawes and Furbank.
But Gloucester were finding so much space and with Saints looking tired, Rees-Zammit completed his hat-trick in the corner.
Cipriani missed the conversion to leave the gap at four points with as many minutes to go.
Saints then cranked up the heat from a lineout drive, earning a penalty, which Francis landed to make it 33-26 with a minute to go.
And after the impressive Wood gathered the kick-off, Saints went through the phases before booting the ball out to make sure of a crucial win.
Saints: Furbank; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar (Tuala 40), Reinach (Taylor 56); van Wyk (Waller 64), Haywood (Matavesi 71), Painter (Hill 56); Moon (Ribbans 56), Lawes; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison (c).
Gloucester: Marshall; Sharples (Banahan 18), Harris, Atkinson (Twelvetrees 74), Rees-Zammit; Cipriani, Heinz (Simpson 74)(c); Hohneck, Marais (Gleave 60 (Seville 66)), Ford-Robinson (Balmain 58); Craig (Grobler 40), Mostert; Ackermann, Ludlow, Morgan (Clarke 40).
Referee: Karl Dickson