In their final home game in the Zurich Premiership this season, NEC Harlequins suffered a 31-19 defeat to Northampton Saints. A try from replacement Mark Tucker in the last play of the game gave the visitors the maximum five points and denied Quins a bonus point from their nights work.
With three minutes on the clock, Paul Grayson opened the scoring by converting a penalty after Simon Miall was penalised at a ruck. Paul Burke put Quins on level terms in similar fashion just two minutes later, though his kick went over off the post.
Playing with the wind at their backs in the first half, Quins dominated territory but failed to create any clear cut scoring opportunities. It was left to Burke to put the home side in front on 12 minutes, converting his second penalty of the night after Saints captain Budge Pountney was guilty of being offside.
Burke looked to put Quins further ahead as the game entered the second quarter, but his drop goal attempt fell short of the target. Grayson had the opportunity to draw the scores level, though his penalty kick after 28 minutes drifted wide of the posts. However, Northampton went into half-time in front after they were awarded a controversial penalty try by referee Robin Goodliffe three minutes before the break.
Centre John Leslie broke through the Quins midfield and in to the twenty-two before off-loading to Andrew Blowers. The back row forward looked for support on the inside but was tackled by Nathan Williams, who managed to dislodge the ball in the process. Goodliffe judged that Williams had deliberately knocked the ball on and ran under the posts to award the penalty try, which Grayson converted to put Northampton 10-6 in front.
Nine minutes after the restart and the visitors went further ahead. Grayson kicked a penalty into the corner and from the resulting lineout, prop forward Brett Sturgess was driven over the line for the try. Matt Dawson took over the kicking duties and made no mistake in adding the two extra points on offer.
Burke kept Quins in touch with his third penalty after 55 minutes but the Saints third try of the contest ten minutes later seemed to have put the result beyond doubt. Grayson took play down the blindside and found full back Nick Beal, who was allowed to run in under the posts following some poor defence from the home side. Dawson converted and the visitors led 24-9.
Quins then staged something on a revival to get themselves in sight of a bonus point. Dan Luger took play into the Saints twenty-two and Ben Gollings chip over the defence was gathered by Tani Fuga, who was held-up short of the line. From the resulting scrum, the Quins pack drove towards the line only for Saints back row forward Darren Fox to kick the ball away from the base of the set-piece, which resulted in the home side being awarded a penalty try from Goodliffe that Burke converted.
After Burke saw a drop goal attempt come back off the post, he then had better success with another effort to make the score 19-24 with the game deep in injury time. However, Northampton still had the opportunity for one last attack and Grayson's cross-field kick was won by Ben Cohen ahead of Luger and the England winger fed Tucker on the inside with the try scoring pass. Dawson's successful conversion was closely followed by the final whistle.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.