A try-double from George North cemented Northampton Saints’ place in next season’s Champions Cup as they beat Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm, ending the home side’s hopes of elite European rugby next season.
The lead changed hands several times in a topsy-turvy Aviva Premiership Rugby first half but Saints eventually ran out winners after keeping Gloucester scoreless in the second half.
An early Greig Laidlaw penalty was cancelled out by George Pisi’s try but Gloucester hit back with tries from Lloyd Evans and Ross Moriarty before North’s first effort narrowed the deficit just before half time.
North had his second early in the second half and a Stephen Myler penalty was enough to secure an eight-point win.
Laidlaw gave the home side the lead after two minutes with a long-range penalty as Saints were penalised for not releasing at the breakdown.
Elliott Creed thought he had given the Cherry and Whites the dream start after four minutes but he was correctly judged to have had a foot in touch when finishing off a mazy run from Billy Twelvetrees.
Saints were ahead after 15 minutes though, full-back Harry Mallinder breaking from inside his own half, side-stepping two Gloucester defenders before off-loading to Ken Pisi, who in turn passed to his brother George, who crossed for the simple finish but Myler could not add the extras.
Laidlaw gave Gloucester the lead again though just after 20 minutes, converting another penalty after ill-discipline from Saints.
The Cherry and Whites were temporarily reduced to 14 men just before the quarter hour mark though as Tom Savage was sin-binned for a no-arm tackled on Lee Dickson and Myler kicked the resultant penalty to put Saints back in front.
The lead switched hands again after the half-hour mark as substitute Evans completed a sweeping team move with a strong finish in the corner on his first appearance of the season, and Laidlaw made no mistake with the difficult conversion from the touchline to put Gloucester ahead by five.
Flanker Moriarty increased the lead in the half’s closing minutes after escaping a tackle on the half way line then side-stepping Mallinder with ease for a fine solo try, Laidlaw adding the extras.
Saints reduced the deficit to just five on the stroke of half time though as George North finished after a Mallinder offload with Myler making the conversion.
And eight minutes into the second half North had his second, collecting from Tom Wood to touch down between the posts, with Myler putting Saints back in front before a penalty minutes later increased their lead to five.
Another Gloucester indiscretion two minutes later meant Myler stretched the lead to eight and the Cherry and Whites’ grip on the game was loosening as the heavens opened on Kingsholm.
With ten minutes to go Laidlaw missed his first kick in 23 attempts as the game slipped away from Gloucester and their slim hopes of European Champions Cup rugby next season appeared to be slipping away.
With six minutes to go their hopes took another blow as second-rower Jeremy Thrush was adjudged to have lost control of the ball and not grounded in a Gloucester drive for the line.
They threw everything at the Saints defence in the closing minutes but Jim Mallinder’s men stood firm to ensure a fifth place finish in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.