Northampton Saints gained revenge for their defeat in the quarter finals of the Tetley's Bitter Cup with a hard fought victory in an entertaining game at the Stoop. NEC Harlequins came back brilliantly from 6-24 to reduce the deficit to just four points. But a late penalty from Matt Dawson secured the victory for the visitors and meant that Quins were denied a bonus point for the second Premiership game in a row.
Quins took the lead in the opening minute with a penalty from Niall Woods. It could have been better for the home side when Matthew Powell had a clear run for the line, though the scrum half was caught by Saints captain Pat Lam. Keith Wood was held up, but by retaining possession an overlap was created on the left. Only a timely intervention from Allan Bateman disrupted Will Greenwood's pass and prevented Brendon Daniel from scoring.
Instead of increasing their lead, Quins soon found themselves two scores behind. On 10 minutes, Alastair Hepher crossed for a try that Dawson converted and two minutes later the Saints were in again. Budge Poutney was allowed to turnover ball that was then sent through the backs to Ben Cohen, who was in space. The England winger had the speed to beat the cover defence and score under the posts. Dawson duly added the extra points to make the score 3-14.
Dawson and Woods then both failed with penalty attempts but the latter made amends after 26 minutes. Quins continued to press and both Daren O'Leary and Nick Burrows were held up short of the line. To make matters worse, Woods failed again with the boot after 29 minutes. Dawson stretched the Saints lead just before the break with his first penalty of the day, making the half-time score 6-17.
Luca Martin gave Saints the perfect start after the break, being allowed to walk through a couple of tackles on his way to the line. Dawson's conversion made it 6-24 and the game seemed to be all over. But with prop Matt Stewart and Cohen both sin-binned, Quins began their revival. Constant pressure led to a try for Ed Jennings, which Woods converted after 58 minutes. Ten minutes later, Daniel took a pass from Adrian Olver and dived over in the corner. Craig Chalmers brilliantly slotted the conversion from the touchline to make the score 20-24 going into the final 10 minutes.
A second try for Hepher, converted by Dawson, stretched the Saints lead to 11 points with nine minutes remaining. Gollings cut the deficit again after diving in for a try to set up a nail-biting finale. Though Quins never really looked like claiming the victory and Dawson's penalty right at the end settled the issue.
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.