Saturday, 28th February 2015 @ 22:20
Northampton Saints extended their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership to 13 points following a 17-13 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
The Gardens is a tough place to visit and although it was another frustrating defeat for the young London side, they were valiant throughout and deserved to leave with something.
Trailing 17-6 in the final play of the match, it took an impressive solo effort from winger Marland Yarde to clinch a losing bonus point, which could be important as Quins look to keep their European Champions Cup qualification hopes alive.
Saints’ three tries came from a dominant forward pack and frustratingly, Harlequins had their chances, but once again couldn’t get over the final hurdle.
Tries from Samu Manoa, James Wilson and Tom Wood trumped two Nick Evans penalties and Yarde’s score.
It was Harlequins who took the initial lead, although it took until the 27th minute before Evans punished the hosts for illegally binding in the scrum.
It had been a frenetic start to the match where possession changed hands regularly. Young centre Harry Sloan and Yarde questioned the defence early on and found numerous gaps. Harlequins were however guilty of being impatient; kicking possession away on three occasions within the first 20minutes.
Saints responded to the opening score three minutes later. Exposing the left wing, the hosts won a penalty in the Harlequins 22. Kicking to the corner, the powerful Saints forward pack rolled over the line and Manoa popped up with the ball.
With half time approaching, Evans was able to bring the score to within one point with his second penalty attempt when Saints failed to release in the tackle.
It was an electric start to the second half by Quins, Charlie Walker burst up field and when Yarde gained possession from the resulting phases, he was put into touch before grounding the ball over the line.
Undeterred by this set back, Harlequins regained possession from the following lineout. The ball was shipped to the left and after another strong carry from Sloan, Mark Lambert came agonisingly close, before a penalty was conceded.
By contrast, Saints were able to extend their lead when replacement scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i turned over possession and passed to Stephen Myler who won his side a penalty. Kicking to touch, the powerful Saints pack rumbled forward, drew in the Harlequins defence which allowed Wilson to capitalise on the overlap to score as the hour mark approached. Myler’s conversion attempt missed, keeping Harlequins within six points.
Three minutes later, Harlequins were dealt another blow when Kyle Sinckler was yellow carded for a no arms tackle in midfield on Manoa.
Harlequins held out the Saints with some impressive defence, but the one man advantage finally took its toll just as Sinckler was due to return on 67 minutes. A third rolling maul from close range saw Tom Wood, on his 150th appearance for the club, bundle over the line. Myler’s conversion missed which kept the door open for Harlequins to claim a losing bonus point.
When Wilson intercepted a Matt Hopper fumble on 70 minutes, it looked as if the full-back would run clear to score his brace, and the bonus point, but he fumbled the ball which took the heat off Quins.
The momentum shifted and Harlequins worked up field. On 78 minutes Charlie Walker, who was threatening all evening, looked to have crossed the line. His try however was disallowed due to the final pass from Ollie Lindsay-Hague being forward.
Harlequins kept fighting and were rewarded for their valiant efforts when Yarde broke clear and scored under the posts. Botica’s conversion brought the score within seven points to secure the important league point.