Quins go into Europe but Saints must wait
HARLEQUINS lost the battle but won the war with a massive defensive shift at Franklin’s Gardens earning them a place in the European Champions Cup next season after a pulsating contest which showed Premiership Rugby at its best.
Quins arrived in Northampton knowing they could still qualify in defeat as long as they chalked up a bonus point and denied Saints a try bonus and that’s exactly what happened although there was much drama along the way.
With so much at stake there was a satisfying edge to proceedings from the off which resulted in a sparkling first half full of cut and thrust.
Quins, starting where they left off against Wasps last week, were immediately into their stride with their forwards battering away with discipline from short range before captain for the day James Horwill forced his way over for a converted try.
The visitors improved on that with a Nick Evans penalty but then Saints, with Louis Picamoles and Luther Burrell very much to the fore, hit back with a series of attacks which eventually brought a cracking try for George North who latched onto a clever ‘batted’ inside pass from Harry Mallinder.
Mallinder, playing flyhalf for the injured Stephen Myler, also added the extras after 22 minutes when Alex Waller crashed over after a well-worked line-out drill with Jamie Gibson feeding Picamoles who drew the Quins defence before offloading to Waller.
Saints seemed to have seized the initiative and, untypically, Evans missed two kickable penalties before Quins finally regained their composure and hit back with a well taken try by Joe Marchant, one of the rising stars of English rugby.
The young centre made the initial break and, after Mike Brown continued the attack, was first on the scene and simply picked up and darted down the blindside for a try in the corner which Evans converted.
A Mallinder penalty saw the two sides go down the tunnel all square at 17-17 and after the break it was Quins who drew first blood with a second Evans penalty although the former All Black was forced off soon after when he took one blow too many on his troublesome shoulder.
Soon after Charlie Matthews was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on and although Quins defended desperately during that period – and in fact could even have scored a try through Tim Swiel – Saints eventually retook the lead with a try by replacement Api Ratuniyarawa.
Twelve minutes left to either score a fourth try or win by more than seven points, the momentum seemed with Saints but Quins dug deep with Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Horwill raising the intensi- ty up front, Jamie Roberts contributing an invaluable steal and Mike Brown breathing defiance as ever.
Quins had hoped to celebrate their 150th anniversary season with silverware but have been too inconsistent for that. They are, however, a class team when fully loaded and achieving automatic European qualification gives them something tangible to celebrate. As for Saints, they could still qualify via the play-offs depending on the result of the European Challenge Cup final.
Early try: George North smashes through for Northampton Below: Joe Marchant scores for Quins