NEC Harlequins put their disappointing league form behind them to record a dramatic victory in this quarter final clash with Northampton. In what was a pulsating cup tie, a try from Steve White-Cooper with just over ten minutes remaining on the clock turned out to be the match winning score. With Jason Leonard making his 200th appearance for the club, the win was the greatest way to mark the occasion.
The home team came out and put pressure on the European Champions right from the kick off. But against the run of play Northampton took the lead after 11 minutes, with the ever reliable Paul Grayson kicking a penalty. Quins looked to respond straight away and came close to scoring just four minutes later. Ryan O'Neill found space down the wing but his chip over the defence was just too long and ran out of play.
After 16 minutes, Northampton were penalised for being offside at a scrum which allowed Niall Woods to level the scores from the resulting penalty. As hard as Quins tried they could not make the breakthrough pass the Saints defence. Woods then missed a penalty from in front of the posts and to make matters worse, the hosts went into the break trailing by three points. On 36 minutes, referee Steve Lander sent Rory Jenkins to the sin bin for deliberately killing the ball and Grayson restored the visitor's lead by converting the penalty. This made the half-time score 3-6.
With the extra man advantage, the Saints pack came out after the interval and made deep inroads into Quins territory led by captain Pat Lam. The pressure finally told on the home side's defence when they were adjudged offside in midfield. Grayson had the opportunity to open up a six point lead, but his penalty attempt drifted to the right of the posts and the deficit stayed at three points.
Quins responded and started to regain their domination of both possession and territory. Some fine tactical kicking by both Craig Chalmers and Niall Woods kept the Saints pinned back inside their own twenty-two. With the home side pressing for the try, it was now Quins who caught Northampton offside and Woods made no mistake with the penalty to level the scores at 6-6 with 30 minutes still left to play.
Both sides went looking for the victory but, thanks to some strong and committed defence, neither team seemed capable of finding the necessary score. Extra-time appeared to be the likeliest outcome as the game entered the final quarter.
With 69 minutes on the clock, Quins produced the killer blow. A fine clearance kick from Quins man of the match Matthew Powell turned defence into attack as Nick Greenstock went sprinting down the touchline. He put pressure on Grayson and forced the full back into touch inside his twenty-two. Quins secured possession from the lineout and drove towards the Saints line.
Garrick Morgan found space down the blind-side and threw an American football style pass out to Greenstock on the wing who made valuable yards. White-Cooper was on hand to take the inside pass and crashed over the line for the crucial try. It sent the players and supporters into wild celebrations. Woods touchline conversion dropped short of the posts, meaning the Saints trailed by 11-6 going into the last ten minutes.
Northampton threw everything they had in an attempt to get back into the game. Instead of opting for the kick at goal, Grayson kicked numerous penalties into the corner as the Saints went looking for the necessary try. But the Quins defence remained defiant and refused to crack under the pressure. As the game entered the final stages tempers boiled over resulting in a mass brawl with all 30 players becoming involved. The referee deemed that a stern lecture was enough punishment and nobody was sin-binned.
With five minutes remaining, Eric Peters replaced Joe Powell at number 8 to make his first appearance for the club. With watches being checked at regular intervals, Lander managed to find five minutes of injury time to keep everybody on nervous tender hooks. After clearing their lines for one final time, Quins secured a scrum deep inside the Saints half. Peter Richards, who earlier replaced Chalmers, picked up and kicked the ball straight into touch. The final whistle followed straight afterwards and Quins had claimed a dramatic victory and a place in the semi-finals.
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.