Northampton Saints 15 Gloucester 3: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Victor Matfield made his Saints debut on Friday night (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Victor Matfield made his Saints debut on Friday night (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Since joining Saints in 2007, forwards coach Dorian West has built a pack capable of competing with the best.

There have been highs and even higher highs up front, with West ensuring that his set of forwards have evolved over time.

The 2010/11 season encompassed the halcyon days, with the front row of Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati sending teams into reverse on a regular basis.

So good were those men, and the five behind them, that Saints reached the Heineken Cup final as well as the Premiership play-off semi-finals.

Leinster were slaughtered by the power of the Northampton pack during the first half of the European showpiece, before eventually a season of pushing people about took its toll.

With Hartley having taken a huge blow to the head just before the break, Saints simply ran out of steam as the Irish giants roared back to secure a stunning 33-22 win.

Since then, West has continued to send out forward packs capable of dominating games.

But perhaps now he has a bunch closest to the one that very nearly conquered Europe little more than four years ago.

And the great news for Saints and England is that the men who currently make up the front row - Alex Corbisiero and Hartley have recently been absent through injury - are all very far from 30.

Alex Waller, Mike Haywood and Kieran Brookes have bossed games in recent weeks, laying the foundations for important victories.

Michael Paterson and Christian Day have provided valuable second row experience, while Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood and Sam Dickinson have also been superb.

Scarlets, Glasgow and Gloucester have all been shoved around like little children coming up against bigger kids on the playground.

And those clubs are no mugs.

Glasgow, Guinness Pro12 champions, have a formidable set of forwards, while Scarlets had won six of their seven league games going into the match at the Gardens.

Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys says his forwards had been performing well before they met Saints.

But, quite simply, none of them have found an answer to Saints’ strength.

Gloucester gave away an alarming amount of scrum penalties, which gave them no chance of claiming a win on a wet and windy night at the Gardens.

And there was a real feeling of authority being given by the Saints pack, just as there was back in 2010/11.

It is far too early to say whether this bunch will be able to achieve the great things that some of the Saints packs of old have.

But the signs are certainly positive, for the near and distant future.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Has been said he is back to his best this season and this was yet more evidence to support that claim. Did everything he had to with aplomb... 8

AHSEE TUALA

Grabbed two tries at Glasgow, but saw far less of the ball on this occasion as the forwards ground it out... 6

GEORGE PISI

A solid enough showing in defence, but no real chance to get at Gloucester as he would loved to have done... 6

LUTHER BURRELL

One great moment as he chased his kick ahead and harangued Charlie Sharples on the Gloucester line, but there were a few slips too... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Signed a new contract at Saints this week, but couldn’t celebrate with a try as he never really got a look in... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Kicked five of the six penalties that came his way and this was another largely assured display... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Lots of box-kicking once again, some of which wasn’t well executed, but he handled the ball well... 6

ALEX WALLER

Another big display from the prop, who just keeps getting better and better and is surely pushing for England recognition... 8

MIKE HAYWOOD - CHRON STAR MAN

A great display from the hooker, who Saints must ensure signs a new deal as his current contract ends next summer. England should also call soon... 8

KIERAN BROOKES

Continues to go from strength to strength at Saints and he took Paddy McAllister to town, leaving him in the gutter as the Gloucester prop was replaced early on... 8

MICHAEL PATERSON

Another impressive performance from the lock as he continues to make himself at home at Franklin’s Gardens... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

A vital member of the Saints pack, the experienced lock steers his side superbly and keeps things ticking over... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Showed some good footwork and handling in tricky conditions, and he made some nice carries... 7

TOM WOOD

Was sent to the sin bin for pulling down a first-half maul, but aside from that this was another good performance... 6

SAM DICKINSON

Played really well at Glasgow and was also influential here, getting his hands on the ball a lot and carrying at speed... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 50)

Continued the box-kicking philosophy, but did manage to inject a bit of tempo as Gloucester tired... 6

VICTOR MATFIELD (for Paterson 58)

The South African legend came on for his debut in Saints colours and he added vital experience at a crucial stage of the game... 6

JJ HANRAHAN (for Burrell 58)

Was given a run at centre once again, but he wasn’t able to crack the Gloucester defence as they prevented Saints scoring a try... 6