Northampton Saints 33 Gloucester 26: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

As it turned out, 2019 ended in the same way as 2018.

Sunday, 29th December 2019, 1:03 pm
Updated Sunday, 29th December 2019, 1:08 pm
David Ribbans made a welcome return to action
David Ribbans made a welcome return to action

There was thrills, spills and, most importantly, a Saints win against a potential top-four rival.

Just as they did when beating Exeter 12 months ago to the day, Saints kept the nerves jangling to the final minute of the final game of the year.

But again they got the job done, once again overcoming myriad hurdles and displaying the belief Chris Boyd's 2018 arrival has instilled in these players.

Time and again, Saints were asked to go to the well against Gloucester.

And time and again they did just that.

There were try-saving tackles galore, most notably from Tom Collins and the hugely influential duo of Courtney Lawes and George Furbank.

There was the elusive class of Cobus Reinach, who conjured two tries almost out of nowhere.

Cobus Reinach was at the double for Saints against Gloucester

And there was the sheer physicality of the back row bruisers as Tom Wood, Lewis Ludlam and Teimana Harrison teamed up to assert their authority.

In a team full of big performances, Lawes perhaps towered above them all in one of the best showings of any Saint during 2019.

But this was a team performance, from one to 23.

Saints were beset by injuries, particularly in their backline, forcing players to shift positions and depart at regular intervals from half-time onwards.

Courtney Lawes was in fantastic form for Saints

Saints lost Dan Biggar and Reinach, and consequently they lost a little direction and shape at times.

Gloucester found plenty of space late on and, had the game gone on much longer, they may have fancied their chances of converting two points into five.

But as it was, Saints toughed it out, ensuring their style was allied with substance.

They showed how important it was for the coaches to make tough selection decisions in December, particularly against Leinster in Dublin.

Saints skipper Teimana Harrison led from the front

Because they needed every ounce of energy here - and they used every drop.

They could have been bowed by defeats to Leinster and Sale.

It would have been easy for three successive defeats to turn into four.

But that is not how this Boyd team operates.

They keep believing, keep batting and keep playing.

And as 2020 arrives, they are full of optimism.

They are still in contention at home and abroad, and if they can tighten up in defence, they have the firepower to test any team.

It was certainly a happy end to the year for the majority of the sold-out Franklin's Gardens crowd on Saturday.

And you wouldn't bet against this bunch of players providing many more enjoyable afternoons like this for their fans during the next 12 months.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

What a display from the full-back, who switched to fly-half after the break and pulled the strings while also making a vital try-saving tackle on Danny Cipriani... 8.5

TOM COLLINS

Made one superb try-saving tackle and was also unlucky to see a brilliant assist count for nothing as Reinach had an effort ruled out for offside... 7

RORY HUTCHINSON

Gloucester handled the skilful centre well, shackling him in attack and pushing him in defence on his 50th appearance for Saints... 6.5

PIERS FRANCIS

A huge 80-minute shift from the centre, who beat defenders at will, put himself about in defence and kicked well from the tee... 8

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Did what he could to put pressure on Gloucester but they defended well against him to restrict his influence on the game... 6.5

DAN BIGGAR

Battled on after taking a knock during the first half and didn't let the team down during his 40 minutes on the field, kicking accurately again... 7

COBUS REINACH

Started in slightly shaky fashion with some kicks going astray, but more than bounced back and was brilliant during the second half, scoring two tries in an electric showing... 8.5

FRANCOIS VAN WYK

A strong all-round showing from the prop who will hope he has done enough to secure a run in the team... 7.5

MIKE HAYWOOD

Grabbed a welcome try in a strong overall showing that again illustrated his importance to the team... 7.5

EHREN PAINTER

Helped Saints to dominate the scrum battle and he was also a handy battering ram in attack as he caught the eye... 7.5

ALEX MOON

Helped to keep the pressure on Gloucester with his power causing problems for the away side... 7

COURTNEY LAWES - CHRON STAR MAN

One of the best second row showings you will see all season. The England star was everywhere, making try-saving tackles and huge carries. Sensational... 9

TOM WOOD

Put the icing on a huge performance by catching the final kick-off to ensure Saints kept the ball and won the game. His physicality and experience was so key here... 8.5

LEWIS LUDLAM

Celebrated his 50th Saints appearance with another massive performance that included big carries, big hits and big wins at the breakdown... 8.5

TEIMANA HARRISON

Produced a jackhammer hand-off on Danny Cipriani, which was one of the highlights of the game, and he was extremely impressive overall... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

AHSEE TUALA (for Biggar 40)

Certainly added some spark in attack when he came on, carrying hard and gaining vital metres for his team... 7

PAUL HILL (for Painter 56)

Helped Saints stay on top up front and battled on after taking a knock to ensure Saints would earn the win... 6

DAVID RIBBANS (for Moon 56)

Saints will be delighted to have this man back and he added some forward power when he came on... 6.5

HENRY TAYLOR (Reinach 56)

Was clearly eager to make an impression after returning from injury and though he got carried away once or twice, he looked sharp overall... 6.5