Samu Manoa’s last-gasp try completed a determined fightback to knock the stuffing out of Gloucester Rugby and salvage a draw for Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Northampton Saints.
After Stephen Myler and Greig Laidlaw traded early blows from the tee, first-half tries from Charlie Sharples and Richard Hibbard put the hosts in the driving seat.
A pair of James Wilson scores – either side of Dan Murphy’s second Aviva Premiership Rugby try of the season – brought Northampton right back into it and Manoa piled over the line at the death to deny Gloucester victory.
The result sees Gloucester slip behind Harlequins in the table once more, while the Saints’ lead at the top is now nine points.
On kicking off the contest, Myler became Northampton Saints’ record appearance maker in Aviva Premiership Rugby – and he marked the occasion with two early penalties to open up a 6-0 lead.
However, it didn’t take long for Laidlaw to follow suit, Saints twice infringing within kicking range and allowing the Scotland captain to level the scores shortly after the ten-minute mark.
Laidlaw almost had a try on the quarter-hour mark, Matt Kvesic capitalising on Hibbard’s overthrown lineout and offloading to the scrum-half but he dropped the ball at the crucial moment.
The Cherry & Whites continued to enjoy plenty of territory and possession in front of their supporters and when Jamie Elliott was found guilty of a deliberate knock-on after 20 minutes, Laidlaw handed them the lead for the first time.
The try did arrive four minutes later when James Hook stepped inside two defenders and broke clear in midfield before spotting two Gloucester shirts on the right wing.
A neat outside-of-the-boot kick found Sharples and allowed him to race clear, dotting down near the posts for Laidlaw to add the extras.
A swift Sharples break soon took them into the Saints half again and, after hooker Hibbard found himself in space on the left wing, Wilson was sent to the sin bin for obstruction near the line.
And it was Hibbard who bagged the second try – his first in Aviva Premiership Rugby – following a powerful rolling maul, Laidlaw’s touchline conversion sailing over.
Billy Twelvetrees almost dived on a kick forward for their third try but play was called back for an earlier obstruction – and when the Cherry & Whites failed to roll away inside their own half on the stroke of half-time, Myler reduced the deficit to 14 from the tee.
After the break Wilson was out of the bin and across the whitewash, latching onto George Pisi’s neat grubber to score – Myler’s conversion bouncing in off the upright.
Gloucester hit back through prop Murphy, powering across the line after good work from Billy Meakes and Jonny May had taken them to the visitors’ line, Laidlaw converting.
However the Saints – and Wilson in particular – were not done. Just three minutes after Gloucester’s try, Manoa and Elliott combined to find Pisi and his offload send the full-back away for his second of the afternoon.
Myler’s conversion brought Northampton to within seven points and it could have been closer five minutes later, only for his penalty to strike the post and bounce clear.
He made amends soon after and cut the gap to four before Henry Purdy and May linked up to score for Gloucester, only for it to be chalked off for a knock-on in the build-up.
Sam Dickinson was penalised for a no-arms tackle five minutes from time and Laidlaw restored Gloucester’s seven-point lead but there was still drama to come.
Saints produced a powerful maul one minute from time and Manoa got his hands on the ball to touch down – Myler’s extras levelling the scores with just seconds left.
Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final are selling faster than this time last year so with just six rounds to go, now’s the time to click here to book your place at the world’s biggest club rugby final.