A try from winger Mark Tucker, converted by fly half Shane Drahm, gave Northampton Saints an unlikely 22-20 victory over NEC Harlequins in the Zurich Premiership at Franklins Gardens. With five minutes to go, Quins led 20-12 but a fifth penalty in the match from Drahm set-up the grandstand finale before he and Tucker combined to deny the visitors right at the death.
After missing his opening kick at goal, Arwel Thomas put the first points on the board for Quins with a penalty after six minutes. Straight from the restart and Drahm responded in similar fashion before putting Northampton in front for the first time with penalty number two. A high tackle from Saints number eight Mark Sodden on Mel Deane presented Thomas with the chance to level the score, which is duly accepted with 15 minutes on the clock.
Four minutes into the second quarter and pressure from the home side deep in Quins twenty-two led to Thomas being sin-binned for deliberately killing the ball. Drahm converted the resulting penalty to put Northampton 9-6 ahead. With Thomas off the field, Gavin Duffy temporarily took over the kicking duties but failed to find the target with his penalty attempt nine minutes before the break.
However, six minutes later and Quins retook the lead by scoring the opening try of the game. Some excellent tackling led to a turnover of possession deep in Northampton territory, allowing Thomas to release George Harder who powered his way over from close range. Thomas added the two extra points from the conversion to give Quins a four-point advantage at the interval (13-9).
Drahm was well short of the target with a long range penalty five minutes after the restart before Thomas extended the visitors lead in dramatic fashion. A loose pass from Northampton centre Marc Stcherbina was intercepted by the Quins fly half and he had the pace to run in unopposed from 70 metres out. Thomas then added the conversion to put Quins into an 11-point lead (20-9).
Drahm cut the deficit with his fourth penalty of the match, though Thomas had the opportunity to cancel this out as the game entered the final quarter. Crucially, his kick went well to the left of the target meaning Quins stayed eight points in front (20-12).
Some excellent defence from the visitors looked to be leading them on to a victory. However, seven minutes from the end and Tom Williams was shown a yellow card that reduced Quins to 14 men once again, and with Drahm converting a penalty minutes later it put Northampton back to within a single score (15-20).
With the game deep in injury time, it was Drahm that set-up the match winning try. He broke deep into the Quins twenty-two before presenting Tucker with the try scoring pass. Drahm then made no mistake with the conversion attempt, with what would be the last kick of the game, to give Northampton a dramatic victory.
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.