Northampton got their defence of the Aviva Premiership crown off to an ominous start as they thumped Gloucester 53-6 on Friday.
Northampton got their defence of the Aviva Premiership crown off to an ominous start as they breezed past Gloucester 53-6 at Franklin's Gardens.
George North was the star of the show, scoring three tries, as the Premiership holders picked up exactly where they left off in their first competitive game since last season's Premiership final win over Saracens.
In a dominant first-half display, Saints dictated proceedings and controlled the game. The home side bossed the scrum as Gloucester's new look front row looked a little ring rusty.
Three first-half tries from the league holders capped off an impressive first 40.
More of the same followed in the second half as the hosts added a further five tries in completing the rout.
The atmosphere was rocking from the off at Franklin's Gardens, yet there was little to get excited about in the first ten minutes.
Then Northampton's control in the scrum started to show, and when they were awarded a penalty after 13 minutes, Stephen Myler duly converted to score the first points of the new season.
Shortly after, James Hook levelled things up for the visitors, and at this point it looked as though Northampton may be in for a tough evening.
Then, in the 22nd minute, a great win from Courtney Lawes in the line-out, lead to Tom Wood breaking forwards, to be denied just short of the line. The ball then broke out to Welsh winger, North who dived over for the first try of the match.
A huge hit from Samu Manoa on Billy Twelvetrees from the restart then gave the home fans another big lift. Saints reacted, and further extended their lead just after 30 minutes when a deft chip from Myler was gobbled up by George Pisi to go over and score.
Greig Laidlaw reduced the visitors arrears to 17-6, but then the last play of the half saw North go over for his second try of the evening and give Northampton a healthy 24-6 lead at half-time.
The home side then flew out of the blocks at the start of the second period. A searing run from James Wilson penetrated the Gloucester back line, and he offloaded to Luther Burrell who bundled the ball over with his chest.
The Cherry and Whites had a mountain climb, and it became even steeper when Harry Trinder was shown a yellow card just five minutes later for a blatant obstruction. Northampton seized upon their man advantage, and just a minute later, the outstanding North went over for his third try of the game in the corner after a looped pass from Myler to complete his hat-trick.
Saints looked in bullish mood and just before the hour mark, the hosts added a sixth try. Kahn Fotuali'i broke free from the base of a ruck to power home, putting his side 41-6 to the good.
Last season's champions – knowing the game was won – then brought on Ben Foden to give the England full-back a run out as he returns to full fitness. It didn't take long for Foden to make his mark on the game. A quick turn of pace gave Saints good ground, and the ball was quickly worked out to the outside where Jon Fisher went over.
To compound Gliucester's misery further a loose pass in the closing moments was pounced upon by Burrell as he went over for his second try of the evening to put the gloss on a convincing 53-6 for Northampton. The performance from Saints was a clear message to the rest of the league that they intend to keep hold of their Premiership crown.
Tries: North 3, G Pisi, Burrell 2, Fotuali'i, Fisher
Con: Myler 4, Hooley
Pen: Hook, Laidlaw
Northampton: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 James Craig, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Ben Foden.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Dan Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Tom Palmer, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Mark Atkinson, 23 Steve McColl.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Trevor Fisher