Saints hit back to claim draw in thriller

Stephen Myler's late conversion earned Saints an unlikely draw at Gloucester (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Stephen Myler's late conversion earned Saints an unlikely draw at Gloucester (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Saints produced a stunning comeback to earn a 33-33 draw in one of the games of the Aviva Premiership season at sun-soaked Kingsholm.

Twenty minutes of mayhem had seen Jim Mallinder’s men fall 23-6 down at one point, but a spirited second-half recovery earned them a share of the spoils against Gloucester.

Two tries from Kiwi full-back James Wilson, the second of which was a contender for score of the season, gave the champions hope of scaling the mountain they had to climb.

And a Samu Manoa try a minute from time, allied with Stephen Myler’s typically cool conversion, left Gloucester gutted as they surrendered what had looked a certain win.

The Cherry and Whites had recovered from an early 6-0 deficit as tries from Charlie Sharples and Richard Hibbard, along with the steady boot of Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, put them in control.

But Myler’s three first-half penalties had just about kept Saints in touch at the break and Wilson’s rapid response after the restart provided the shot in the arm they needed.

He added another try soon after, putting the finishing touches to a cut-throat move from inside his side’s own half, and though Dan Murphy dotted down for Gloucester, Saints had the final say through Manoa and Myler.

The table-toppers had gone into the game nine points clear of second-placed Bath and they set about Gloucester in the scrum, with Myler using an early penalty win to put his team in front.

The fly-half, who was to finish the day with 18 points, was at it again soon after, but the home side finally got going with a penalty of their own from Laidlaw.

Both sides were finding themselves on the wrong side of referee Greg Garner and Laidlaw levelled the scores.

The hosts were getting into it and they should have gone ahead on 14 minutes, but Matt Kvesic’s pass failed to find the hands of Laidlaw, who dropped the ball with the line in sight.

Despite being on level terms, Saints had failed to find their feet in the game, with sloppiness hampering their start to the game.

And after Jamie Elliott was punished for a deliberate knock-on - that could easily have resulted in a yellow card - Laidlaw put Gloucester ahead for the first time.

It was the catalyst for a Cherry and Whites cavalry charge and they soon had their first try of the game as Welsh No.10 James Hook danced past a couple of despairing Saints tackles and placed a perfectly-weighted grubber for Sharples to score.

Laidlaw added the extras and Saints were 10 points down, having not got going at all.

Things were to get worse soon after as Wilson was sent to the bin for impeding Laidlaw and Gloucester grabbed their second try through hooker Hibbard, who peeled off the back of a lineout drive to score his first Premiership try.

Laidlaw’s conversion took Gloucester 17 points up and Saints were rocking, desperately needing to steady the ship with 10 minutes to go before the break.

They did so, and Myler cut the gap with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

But Mallinder’s men needed a strong start to the second half and they were to get it as George Pisi’s grubber was gathered by Wilson, who dived over the line.

Myler’s conversion went in off the post and suddenly the gap was just seven points.

But it wasn’t to be for long as despite the best efforts of Tom Stephenson, who did superbly to halt Steve McColl, Gloucester got over again as Murphy’s power proved too much for Calum Clark.

Laidlaw maintained his 100 per cent kicking record, but defending was not top of either side’s agenda and Saints responded a sensational score.

Superb work from Elliott and, in particular, Manoa helped send Wilson over for his second score of the game.

Myler’s conversion was a good one, but his penalty effort soon after, earned by replacement Gareth Denman at the scrum, was to be less accurate.

However, he was successful with a second bite at the cherry soon after as Denman again delivered in the set piece, forcing Gloucester to replace the bedraggled Murphy.

The nerve of the home side was set to be severely tested as Saints poured forward, while at the other end Gloucester were denied a game-sealing try by the TMO, who spotted a Billy Twelvetrees knock-on in the build-up.

Laidlaw did extend the lead to seven points with a penalty with five minutes to play, but Saints refused to lie down.

A trademark drive ended with a typical Manoa try from the back and Myler, as he has done so often in the past, kept his nerve to earn Saints a share of the spoils.

Gloucester: McColl (Burns 60); Sharples (Purdy 48), Meakes, Twelvetrees (c), May; Hook, Laidlaw; Murphy (Thomas 56), Hibbard (Dawidiuk 67), Afoa; Savage, Palmer; Kalamafoni (Moriarty 27), Kvesic, Evans.

Replacements: Puafisi, Robson.

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi (Tuala 68), G Pisi, Stephenson, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i (Dickson 54); Corbisiero (A Waller 60), Haywood, Ma’afu (Denman 48); Lawes, Day (Dickinson 48); Wood (c), Clark (Dowson 65), Manoa.

Replacements: Williams, Olver.

Referee: Greg Garner