Myler keeps his cool to force draw


Published: Saturday 7th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Stephen Myler kicked a conversion deep into stoppage time to give Aviva Premiership champions Northampton a thrilling 33-33 draw at Kingsholm.

Fly-half Myler added the extras to number eight Samu Manoa’s close-range last-gasp touchdown, and Gloucester’s hopes of stalling runaway league leaders Saints were thwarted.

Some of Gloucester’s rugby matched the glorious conditions following tries by wing Charlie Sharples, hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Dan Murphy, while Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw converted all three tries and kicked four penalties.

But Northampton, still comfortably top of the Premiership pile with just five regular-season games left, gained a share of the spoils after trailing by 14 points at half-time.

Full-back James Wilson scored two tries, while Manoa applied the late drama, with Myler contributing 18 points.

It was Gloucester’s best performance of the season as they keep on the course for the Premiership’s top half and European Champions Cup qualification following a game that bristled with attacking intent and high skill levels, all played at a blistering pace to keep a 14,000-plus crowd totally engrossed.

Ultimately, though, it said everything about Northampton’s composure that they salvaged a share of the points, while England hopefuls Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood made strong contributions, and both look set to be involved in next Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations appointment with Scotland at Twickenham.

Gloucester recalled three players involved in Six Nations action last weekend – Hibbard, Laidlaw and England centre Billy Twelvetrees – while England wing Jonny May also started, and there were call-ups for full-back Steve McColl and number eight Gareth Evans.

England flanker Wood skippered Northampton, meanwhile, as one of four changes from the side that defeated Harlequins eight days ago. Elsewhere in the forwards, props Alex Corbisiero and Salesi Ma’afu replaced Alex Waller and Gareth Denman, respectively, with scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i taking over from Lee Dickson.

The game began at a frantic pace, but referee Greg Garner also made his presence felt, awarding early penalties to both sides that were gratefully accepted by rival kickers Myler and Laidlaw.

Myler booted Saints into a 6-0 lead, but Laidlaw quickly erased that deficit with two strikes of his own. Northampton, though, would have been into double figures had Ken Pisi not been caught by his opposite number May after breaking from deep.

Gloucester steadily grew in confidence, with Laidlaw completing his penalty hat-trick just 22 minutes into the contest, before the home side shredded Saints with two tries in quick succession.

The first score owed everything to a magical break by Wales international James Hook, who ghosted past four defenders either side of halfway, then kicked with pinpoint accuracy to a galloping Sharples, who barely broke stride before sprinting clear and touching down.

Laidlaw added the conversion, before Northampton had Wilson sin-binned for killing possession close to his own line, and Gloucester capitalised on a one-man advantage within two minutes.

The Gloucester forwards drove a short-range lineout, and Hibbard got his hands on the ball to score, with Laidlaw’s majestic touchline conversion opening up a 23-6 advantage that Saints could have few complaints about.

Myler then landed his third penalty with the final kick of a first-half that fully reflected Gloucester’s dominance as they trooped off 14 points clear.

But Northampton had no intention of playing second fiddle for much longer, and they halved that deficit within three minutes of the restart as Wilson eased over for a comfortable try after centre Tom Stephenson kicked cleverly into space.

It was a test of Gloucester’s mental resolve, yet they responded superbly as Hook’s vision and creativity prised another opening, and after going through some patient phases, it was Murphy who powered over.

Laidlaw’s conversion made it 30-16, but back came Northampton with a stunning score that was created by the approach work of Manoa and wing Jamie Elliott, and a supporting Wilson outstripped Gloucester’s defence for another try that Myler converted.

Myler then missed a straightforward penalty chance, giving Gloucester a reprieve they could not have expected, but he made amends three minutes later to set up a gripping final quarter.

Gloucester thought they had sealed the deal six minutes from time when substitute Henry Purdy crossed wide out, but the try was disallowed for an infringement during the build-up.

It was then all about Gloucester securing territory and closing out the game after Laidlaw slotted another penalty, but Manoa and Myler had other ideas.

Published: Saturday 7th March 2015 by The News Editor

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