Northampton qualified for next season's Heineken Cup after completing a thrilling 30-24 win over Gloucester in the LV= Cup.
Northampton qualified for next season's Heineken Cup after they completed a thrilling 30-24 win over Gloucester in the LV= Cup Final.
The Saints' pulsating triumph was secured through tries by prop Soane Tonga'uiha, centre James Downey and scrum-half Lee Dickson in a game when the lead changed hands five times.
Fly-half Stephen Myler's 100 per cent goalkicking return harvested 15 points, and that proved the difference against a Gloucester side that underlined its post-Christmas resurgence.
Myler's opposite number Nicky Robinson kicked 14 points, including the conversion of a penalty try, while flanker Akapusi Qera also touched down, but Saints deservedly shaded an epic tussle.
With a European place already in the bag, they can now go full tilt at their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster on April 10, while they are also tucked in just two points behind Guinness Premiership leaders Leicester.
Both teams were without several international stars due to yesterday's Six Nations schedule, which claimed players like the Northampton quartet of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley and Euan Murray, plus Gloucester trio Mike Tindall, Gareth Delve and Marco Bortolami.
Tindall though, made it back from England duty in Paris to watch his team make a promising start as Robinson booted them ahead after 10 minutes.
Northampton conceded considerable early territory, but worryingly for Gloucester they scored during both of their brief spells inside the opposition half.
Myler kicked two penalties in quick succession, but former Wales fly-half Robinson tied things up through a long-distance strike before completing his penalty hat-trick early in the second quarter.
Gloucester, 20 points and five places below Saints in the Premiership, had no intention of playing second fiddle, and an opening try after 28 minutes was a deserved reward for sustained pressure.
The Gloucester forwards powered themselves into a position barely five metres from Northampton's line, and Qera crashed over to open up an imposing 14-6 advantage.
Northampton though, are not contesting European and domestic silverware for nothing, and their stunning response produced two converted tries in five minutes.
Tonga'uiha scored the first following slick close-quarter work by flanker Neil Best and hooker Brett Sharman, then Downey rounded off a brilliant 60-metre attack.
Lock Juandre Kruger proved the pivotal player in keeping possession alive, and with Kruger's opposite number Alex Brown down receiving treatment, Downey skipped inside a flat-footed Gloucester defence.
Myler's second successful conversion put Northampton 20-14 in front, ending a high-class opening period as a groggy Brown left the action.
Gloucester reshuffled their back division for the second period, with James Simpson-Daniel moving into midfield instead of Tim Molenaar and substitute Charlie Sharples featuring on the wing.
Unruffled by their interval deficit, Gloucester looked to reassert control up-front, and their efforts produced an immediate result.
Referee Alan Lewis was in no mood for charity with regard to the set-pieces, and when Saints' front-row crumpled at an attacking Gloucester scrum five metres out, he instantly awarded a penalty try.
Robinson's conversion edged Gloucester ahead, but as in the first-half, they held their lead for barely three minutes.
Northampton stormed upfield from the restart, and the magnificent Tonga'uiha this time played the role of provider as Dickson scampered across.
Myler slotted the extras to make it 27-21, yet Gloucester thought they had wiped out their deficit approaching the hour-mark.
Robinson weaved his way through Northampton's defence and appeared to have grounded the ball on Saints' line, but television match official Ed Morrison ruled otherwise and Saints escaped.
The game continued at a rip-roaring pace with Tonga'uiha again in the thick of things when he almost created an exceptional try from a move that started deep inside Saints' 22.
The workaholic loosehead intercepted a Gloucester pass and set off on a rampaging touchline burst, but although he found two support runners, Northampton were denied in the corner by a last-gasp tackle.
Myler and Robinson exchanged further penalties as the clock ticked down, and that six-point deficit ultimately proved too much for Gloucester, even though they gave it everything.
Tries: Penalty try, Qera
Pens: Robinson 4
Tries: Tonga'uiha, Downey, Dickson
Cons: Myler 3
Pens: Myler 3
Northampton:, 15 Shane Geraghty, 14 Bruce Reihana, 13 Jon Clarke, 12 James Downey, 11 Paul Diggin, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Neil Best, 6 Phil Dowson (c), 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Brett Sharman, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Andy Long, 17 Regardt Dreyer, 18 Jon Vickers, 19 Mark Hopley, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Alan Dickens, 22 Barry Everitt, 23 Joe Ansbro.
Gloucester: 15 Freddie Burns, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Adam Eustace, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Peter Buxton (c), 5 Alex Brown, 4 Will James, 3 Pierre Capdevielle, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Rupert Harden, 19 Apo Satala, 20 Andy Hazell, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Tom Voyce, 23 Charlie Sharples.
Referee: Alan Lewis