Premiership: Northampton beat Gloucester 33-26 in thriller despite Rees-Zammit hat-trick
|Northampton (13) 33|
|Tries: Reinach 2, Haywood Cons: Francis 2, Biggar Pens: Biggar 2, Francis 2|
|Gloucester (7) 26|
|Tries: Rees-Zammit 3, Harris Cons: Cipriani 3|
Northampton returned to the top of the Premiership as they saw off Gloucester in a seven-try thriller at Franklin's Gardens.
But exciting Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit made headlines in defeat as he claimed his first Gloucester hat-trick.
After Mike Haywood's first-half try, scrum-half Cobus Reinach added two more tries after the break for the hosts.
Rees-Zammit, 18, added two more to his first-half opener and Chris Harris also crossed but Gloucester fell short.
After scoring twice in the final 20 minutes of Gloucester's pre-Christmas 36-3 win over Worcester, that takes Hartpury College student Rees-Zammit's personal haul to five in two matches.
Gloucester took two points from the contest - a losing bonus for finishing within seven points and a try bonus for scoring four tries.
Meanwhile, Saints' win takes them back above Exeter, who host hungry champions Saracens - again trying to eat into their 35-point penalty - on Sunday.
But the one damper on a day when Saints ended a run of three straight defeats was an injury to Wales fly-half Dan Biggar, who limped off at half-time.
It was Mark Atkinson's grubber kick which bobbled loose for Rees-Zammit to hack forward and then have the pace to accelerate for the opening score, Danny Cipriani adding the extras from out wide on the left with the first of three successful conversions.
Haywood then went over from a driving maul, supplemented by Biggar's conversion, along with two penalties, for a 13-7 half-time lead.
The second half opened with a burst of four tries in 14 minutes.
Following a slick Saints move from inside their own half, Reinach touched down from close range, Piers Francis adding the extras for a 20-7 lead.
That became 20-14 when, despite the hint of a forward pass in the build-up, centre Harris went over from a swift Gloucester move.
Reinach then pounced on a loose ball from Cipriani just outside the Saints 22, hacked forward, knocked ahead again and then gathered before Francis added the conversion.
Then Freddie Clarke found space on the left to feed Rees-Zammit, who had a clear run in for his second try, and that became three when he went in again, Cipriani this time missing the kick.
But Francis stretched the lead back to seven points with a late penalty - and Gloucester had no further response.
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd:
"It was a great occasion at the Gardens again just like this time last year when we beat Exeter. We were obviously pleased to come out on top although as the score indicates, it was pretty close.
"We took a lot of knocks. Dan went off at half-time because he took a hit just above the knee. But George Furbank did really well slotting in at 10. It was a good shift.
"We'd put the two games against Leinster aside but we were disappointed to lose at Sale last week. But there was no correlation around those matches and this one. We didn't beat Gloucester at all last year so we're really pleased to do that. We go into the new year in a reasonably good space."
Gloucester boss Johan Ackermann:
"We didn't deserve more from the game because of the way we played in the first half. We made mistakes but we were much better in the second.
"We closed the gap but we made silly errors and in hindsight we'll probably take the two points. If we'd played like we did last week from the first minute we could have come away with more.
"It was a challenge for us here after half-time because we looked a bit slow and out of sorts in the first half. We needed to up our intensity and look after the ball better."
Northampton Saints: Furbank; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; van Wyk, Haywood, Painter, Moon, Lawes, Wood, Ludlam, Harrison (capt).
Replacements: Matavesi, Waller, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Ribbans, Taylor, Symons, Tuala.
Gloucester: Marshall; Sharples, Harris, Atkinson, Rees-Zammit; Cipriani, Heinz (capt; Hohneck, Marais, Ford-Robinson; Craig, Mostert; Ackermann, Ludlow, Morgan.
Replacements: Gleave, Seville, Balmain, Grobler, Clarke, Simpson, Twelvetrees, Banahan.
Sin bin: Hohneck (60).