Immense performances, in set pieces and in the loose, by both the forwards and backs saw the NEC Harlequins beat Northampton Saints at home at the Stoop 43-21 with an exciting display of attacking rugby.
The first half started at pace, with Ugo Monye running the ball back at Saints from their return kick following the Quins kick-off. Tackled on the Saints 10 yard line, the ball was spilled forward in contact and the first scrum of the match was awarded to the Saints.
Quins were penalised for collapsing the scrum, and Saints took a quick penalty. Strong tackling saw the ball turned over by Pat Sanderson, and then kicked deep into Saints 22. Nick Beal, the Saints full-back and Paul Burke exchanged kicks, with Burke sending a grubber into touch for a Saints lineout on their own 22.
Saints won the ball cleanly and set up a strong driving maul before their scrum half, Mark Robinson, made a break. Quins defence again led to a turnover, and the ball was spun quickly out along the backs but was knocked-on. Scrum to Saints. Saints ran the ball back at Quins, but were penalised just inside the Quins half for not releasing.
With the wind behind him Burke opted to go for the posts, and his huge kick bounced on the crossbar before going over. 3-0 to Quins after four minutes.
Quins attacked again straight from the re-start, with fluent passing and strong running stretching the Saints' defence, but a knock-on inside the Saints 22 relieved the pressure for Saints. Quins appeared to have won the ball against the head with a powerful drive, but the scrum had to be re-set. This time the ball was won by Saints and the line cleared by a long kick deep into the Quins half. Having not found touch, an exchange of kicks followed, but a knock-on by the Saints wing gave Quins a scrum just inside the Saints half.
From the scrum, a perfectly executed cross-field kick by Burke was caught cleanly by Monye, who outpaced the covering defence to score in the corner. A successful conversion by Burke increase Quins lead to 10-0 after 11 minutes.
Exciting attacking play by both sides followed the re-start, but Saints were unable to break through the determined Quins defence, and were penalised for not releasing the ball. With Burke receiving treatment on the pitch, Taumalolo sent a huge kick deep into Saints half for a line-out near their 22.
With the set pieces continuing to work well for Quins, they were able to set up a driving maul, which was stopped illegally by Saints. Penalty to Quins on the Saints 22. Having recovered from his injury, Burke kicked for the posts. 13-0 after 18 minutes.
Quins extended their lead in the 27th minute following a steal at the line-out on the Saints 22, with another rolling maul putting Saints on their back feet. Receiving the ball from the maul, Ben Willis made a break but was stopped short of the line. A series of pick and drives saw Pat Sanderson powering his way over the try line for Quin's second try of the first half. 18-0. Burke's conversion was unsuccessful.
Quins scoring continued not long after the restart with Saints, under pressure from the excellent Quins handling, caught offside at a ruck on half way. Once again, Burke opted for the long kick at goal, this time the ball sailing over without help from the crossbar. 21-0 after 30 minutes.
The ball was lost forward by Quins at the re-start, giving Saints a scrum inside the Quins 22. A huge drive by the Quins pack won the ball against the head, and Burke cleared to just outside the Quins 22. Saints won their lineout, but were driven back by Diprose and penalised for not releasing. Burke relieved the pressure with a clearance kick to deep inside the Saints half.
From a clean win at the line-out, the ball was spun out to the Quins centres, with Chris Bell breaking through the defence and offloading to Sanderson on his shoulder. Coming into the line at pace, Josh Taumalolo was stopped just short of the tryline and Saints were penalised for being offside at the ruck.
With their line-out working well, Quins chose to kick to touch. The driving maul from the lineout was stopped just short of the line, but the ball was recycled and Tani Fuga went over for the third try of the match. The conversion was successful, taking the score to 28-0 after 35 minutes.
A turnover following a fast, powerful drive from the Quins pack which took the ball from Quins 22 to Saints 10 yard line gave the Saints an opportunity to counter-attack. Keeping the ball in hand, Saints put the Quins defence under pressure, leading to a yellow card for Tony Diprose for holding a player back. Saints opted for the scrum. Spinning the ball wide, Rob Hunter went over in the 42nd minute to put Saints on the board for the first time. A successful conversion by Shane Drahm saw the half time score at 28-7.
Quins left the pitch at half time one man down but 28-07 up, having displayed 'the best half hour of rugby we've played this season' (Mark Evans).
The second half began at a similar pace to the first, but with a number of handling errors and loose kicking by both sides, the game lost some of its earlier fluency.
The first score of the second half came in the 57th minute, with Quins, now back to 15 men, displaying some slick handling following a turnover at a ruck on the half way line. Spinning the ball out wide, Simon Keogh went over in the corner for Quins fourth try and a valuable bonus point. 33-7. The conversion was unsuccessful.
Quins scored again in the 60th minute, with a Burke penalty arising from an offside infringement at a ruck on the Saints 10 yard line. 36-7.
Quins fifth try came a few moments later in the 64th minute, with the ball again being spun out to Simon Keogh following a line-out deep in the Saints half. Running behind the posts, Keogh ensured an easy conversion for Andy Dunne, who had earlier replaced Burke. 43-7.
The Saints began to put pressure on Quins, with more accurate passing and recycling of the ball preventing the previous turn-overs. Quins defence was at last breached in the 73rd minute by Andrew Blowers, a missed tackle allowing the Number 8 to score under the posts. A successful conversion by Drahm reduced the margin to 43-14.
Quins were once again reduced to 14 men in the 76th minute of the match, with Tani Fuga being sin-binned.
A late consolation try by Grant Seely in the 83rd minute from a quick tap penalty inside Quins 22, converted successfully by Drahm saw the final score at 43-21.
Harlequins fan Ed Atkin won the Etihad Airways 'Up and Under' competition at the Northampton Saints game. As a result, he and a friend have won a holiday to Abu Dhabi courtesy of Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.