What do you get when you cross a hot-stepping fly-half with the most porous defence in the league? Northampton Saints fans won’t want to read the punchline after Gloucester’s Santiago Carreras tore their team to shreds at first receiver. The Argentinian is a recent convert from the outside backs but he’ll be inked in at 10 moving forward after this performance. One try, a hand in two more and 19 points from the tee saw Gloucester leapfrog Northampton from seventh to fourth on the table with a 34-19 win.
It was a familiar story for the Saints and it would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating. They kicked off the game with the worst record in the Premiership across some key metrics. Bottom of the log on points conceded, tries conceded, carries conceded, metres conceded and missed tackles per game is indicative of their recent struggles.
They were dangerous going forward. The 21-year-old wing Tommy Freeman dotted down in each corner in the first half after Gloucester’s hooker Jack Singleton opened the scoring. The 20-year-old fly-half Fin Smith had an impact, hurling flat passes and finding the direct runs of his centres and energetic back row. But when asked to tackle he and his teammates were found wanting.
It was Smith who was at fault for Carreras’ score just before half-time. A sloppy knock-on gave Gloucester a scrum inside Northampton’s 22. Ben Morgan picked it up at the back and shovelled it on for Carreras on the angle. Smith was over exuberant and wildly charged towards the line only to be stepped as if he was knee deep in porridge. He then brought the first 40 minutes to a close by missing a kickable penalty.
An earlier converted try from Chris Harris following another line-break from Carreras meant Gloucester went into the break with a 21-12 advantage despite Northampton bossing possession and territory.
Smart rugby over the next 40 minutes would see them claim victory. Unlike their guests, who grew ever more frantic, they defended as a unit, scrambling when it got loose out wide and holding firm in the close exchanges.
They were tenacious on the ground, either slowing Saints down or stealing possession. Even prop Val Rapava-Ruskin won three crucial turnovers at the breakdown.
One sequence on the hour mark encapsulated the contest. A Northampton line-out in Gloucester territory was stolen in the air. It was recycled to Johan Ackermann, the league’s leader in metres made in the carry, who bulldozed over the gainline. Northampton indiscipline gave the home team a penalty that was hoofed into the corner. Two penalty advantages from the maul, a yellow card for the Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam and a burrowed try from prop Fraser Balmain procured Gloucester’s bonus point.
Northampton fell apart. Juarno Augustus gave up a penalty for an early tackle. No one could hold on to the ball. Smith was hooked with George Furbank shifting to fly-half and Freeman moving to full-back. It made little difference. Even when Gloucester erred, Northampton returned the favour in kind. A Carreras penalty with 10 minutes left nudged Gloucester into the 30s.
A deliberate knock-down from Ackermann might have made a game of it. Northampton had the ball at the ruck within an arm’s reach of Gloucester’s line. When it emerged it did so on the other end in the arms of Rapava-Ruskin.
James Ramm scored a consolation try under the posts but it was less than Saints deserved with Gloucester back to winning ways. Carreras rightfully had the final say with a penalty at the death.