Quins go into Europe but Saints must wait

The Rugby Paper - - Aviva Premiership - ■ By BREN­DAN GAL­LAGHER

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.

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

Early try: Ge­orge North smashes through for Northamp­ton Be­low: Joe Marchant scores for Quins

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