Care and Brown put Quins back on track to leave Saints with ‘big moun­tain’ to climb

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - By Char­lie Mor­gan

30

17 Danny Care and Mike Brown pro­vided re­minders of their class in a bonus-point vic­tory for Har­lequins that dealt a sig­nif­i­cant blow to Northamp­ton’s play-off prospects.

Two more of Paul Gus­tard’s se­nior play­ers, Chris Ash­ton and Chris Rob­shaw, were among the try-scor­ers as Alex Dom­brandt de­liv­ered a fine per­for­mance in front of Eng­land coaches Ed­die Jones and John Mitchell.

With both teams com­ing off mid­week de­feats, and aim­ing to pre­vent a slide to­wards lower-ta­ble ig­nominy, the stakes felt high. In the end, Saints faded to their third loss in four games post-lock­down.

The know-how of Ash­ton, Brown, Care and Rob­shaw, who boast 266 Eng­land caps between them, was es­pe­cially im­por­tant.

“It was a must-win for both sides,” said Care af­ter a sparky out­ing. “Robbo [Rob­shaw] put it on us that we needed five points and to score four tries.

“It was great to see the re­ac­tion be­cause it was a re­ally poor out­ing from us on Wed­nes­day (in a 29-14 de­feat by Worces­ter). We had to

Har­lequins Northamp­ton turn that around and it’s a big two weeks for us now.”

This was Northamp­ton’s sec­ond away match at the Twick­en­ham Stoop in eight days fol­low­ing their 27-3 win over Lon­don Ir­ish – who are ground-shar­ing with Har­lequins.

Ash­ton scur­ried af­ter Mar­cus Smith’s kick-off and slammed into Matt Proc­tor, yet the Saints cen­tre re­sponded quickly. In the sixth minute, Rory Hutchin­son’s short pass slipped him through a gap in Har­lequins’ de­fen­sive line from a line-out. Proc­tor stayed calm in space and linked up with his mid­field part­ner, Hutchin­son fin­ish­ing from 25 me­tres.

Smith pulled back three points from the tee and mis­takes from James Grayson and Alex Mitchell, both of whom over­cooked touchfind­ers, stalled Saints. But it was a fairly open con­test full of off­loads.

An­other breakdown penalty helped the hosts af­ter the drinks break. Ryan Olowofela broke out from his own try-line but was en­veloped and con­ceded pos­ses­sion to a jack­alling Care.

Brown tapped the penalty and fed Dom­brandt, who sucked in three tack­lers and flicked the ball to his full-back. Al­though Jones and Mitchell have plenty of back-row­ers to mon­i­tor, the skill – and Dom­brandt’s dis­play as a whole – would have cer­tainly reg­is­tered. Brown’s loop­ing pass then set Nathan Earle clear.

A dis­puted scrum penalty, which drew a few touch­line ex­ple­tives from Har­lequins coach Adam Jones, gave Saints field po­si­tion for their sec­ond try. Grayson de­liv­ered a fizzing pass to Olowofela be­fore land­ing the con­ver­sion.

Har­lequins hit back, a surg­ing maul car­ry­ing Scott Bald­win over. The con­ver­sion kissed the out­side of the post but Smith soon made amends, slot­ting his sec­ond penalty on the stroke of half-time. When the sides reap­peared for the sec­ond pe­riod, the 21-year-old fly-half con­jured a very pop­u­lar try.

Smith danced around loose­head

Trade­mark fin­ish: Chris Ash­ton goes over for Har­lequins’ fi­nal try, and his 88th in the Pre­mier­ship prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and, al­though he was hauled down two me­tres short, quick ruck ball al­lowed Ash­ton to feed Rob­shaw and the arch-poacher then se­cured the bonus point him­self.

Brown, typ­i­cally elu­sive and tena­cious all af­ter­noon, es­caped a num­ber of de­fend­ers, pow­ered up the mid­dle and found Dom­brandt. Ash­ton bus­tled on to his col­league’s shoul­der and had enough pace to score his 88th Pre­mier­ship try.

Grayson re­duced Har­lequins’ healthy lead with a penalty. With 20 min­utes re­main­ing and Northamp­ton trail­ing 30-17, Chris Boyd stepped up the chase by un­load­ing Taqele Nai­yar­a­voro and Teimana Har­ri­son from his bench.

Even though a mind-numb­ing se­ries of scrum re­sets ate into the re­main­ing time, Saints had op­por­tu­ni­ties to sal­vage at least a bonus point. Ap­pro­pri­ately, though, the game fiz­zled out – as Northamp­ton’s sea­son seems to be do­ing – with an er­ror from Boyd’s men.

They still have a Cham­pi­ons Cup quar­ter-fi­nal, against Ex­eter Chiefs at Sandy Park, a daunt­ing prospect. Boyd was left to rue “frisky” mo­ments and “dumb de­ci­sions”.

“It’s a hell of a big moun­tain now but it’s not dead,” said the di­rec­tor of rugby of his side’s top-four chances. “We have an obli­ga­tion to chase that next Fri­day against Ex­eter, which we will, but one more [de­feat] would be ter­mi­nal.”

Har­lequins will be far more buoy­ant, not least be­cause their next as­sign­ment – at home against Bath – is a pi­lot event that is due to wel­come 3,500 of their sup­port­ers.

Af­ter salut­ing how the “spine” of his team – from Joe Mar­ler through to Brown via Rob­shaw, Dom­brandt, Care and Smith – di­rected pro­ceed­ings, Gus­tard sin­gled out Ash­ton for praise.

“You cer­tainly know he is around the place,” said Har­lequins’ head of rugby. “He is a proper se­nior in­ter­na­tional player. He might not be in Ed­die Jones’s Eng­land plans at the mo­ment but he is still a Test match wing in terms of try-scor­ing.”

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