Friday, 7th September 2018 @ 19:45
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Head of Rugby Paul Gustard said he was incredibly proud of his Harlequins side as they pushed Northampton Saints all the way on Friday night in a 25-18 defeat at Franklin’s Gardens.
Despite the hosts dominating for much of the match, two second-half trys from Danny Care and James Lang gave Quins hope and they were camped on Northampton’s line for the last five minutes but just couldn’t get the score to draw level.
“I was probably more proud of the team’s effort tonight than I was in the first game of the season against Sale last week,” said Gustard. “Yes, there are still lots of areas where we can improve but I cannot fault the effort they put in and we will get back to work on Monday and prepare for the next challenge.”
Harlequins took the lead with a Marcus Smith penalty early in the first half but, in a half littered with errors, it was Northampton who dominated and will have been disappointed not to have scored a try.
Only some impressive last-ditch tackles prevented the hosts from touching down and Harlequins will have been relieved to have limited the score to a 9-3 deficit at half-time.
In the very first minute Marcus Smith was called into defensive duty when Tom Collins broke down the left wing. Sustained Northampton pressure was alleviated by Harlequins’dominance in the scrum and ability to steal line outs at crucial moments.
First Matt Symons then Ben Glynn took the ball away from the hosts and following Quins’ first period of pressure Northampton were penalised when Alex Waller was off his feet at a ruck and Smith converted in front of the posts.
Northampton regrouped quickly and after 18 minutes threatened Quins with some powerful running from Luther Burrell and David Ribbans through the middle. They drew level when Quins were penalised for being offside at a ruck and Dan Biggar converted.
Moments later Northampton went closest to scoring the first try of the half when a loose line out sent the backs free and swift passing down the backs gave the ball to Ken Pisi who was brilliantly caught by Joe Marchant with the try-line in his sights. The ball then fell to Burrell who again looked like he might be in for a score but Marchant denied him too. Pisi had injured his hand in the tackle and was replaced by Harry Mallinde
Quins continued to dominate the set-piece but could not convert that superiority into points and after 33 minutes Northampton drew clear when Danny Care was penalised for a high tackle on Piers Francis.
Northampton full-back Ahsee Tuala collected the ball from the re-start and powered his way through several Quins tackles and again Northampton will have felt a try was on but Biggar knocked on at a crucial moment and Quins were reprieved.
Then, with 39 minutes on the clock, Mark Lambert was penalised at the scrum and, from a wide position on the left flank, Biggar made it 9-3.
Northampton picked up in the second half where they had left off in the first and scrum-half Cobus Reinach thought he had scored a try in the 44th minute when he appeared to finish a period of solid pressure by collecting substitute Harry Mallinder’s chip and chase and piling over. He had been held up though by a resilient Quins’ defence and Northampton were still made to wait for their try.
Biggar was gifted another penalty in front of the posts a minute later, though, when Elia Elia was penalised for offside and the hosts extended their lead to 12-3.
Quins finally exerted some pressure in Northampton’s 22 in the 50th minute – and scored from their first meaningful attack. Danny Care picking the ball up five yards from the line, spinning in the tackle and touching down. Smith converted to make it 12-10 and Quins were back in the game. But just six minutes later, Franklin’s Gardens favourite Dylan Hartley, on as a substitute piled over for a Northampton try after Care had been penalised for going in at the side.
Harlequins were reasserting themselves, however, and with the score at 19-10 still were in contention with 20 minutes to go. A Nathan Earle knock-on in front of the posts, however, gave Biggar another penalty and Northampton seemed in danger of closing out the game.
Gustard introduced both Renaldo Bothma and Paul Lasike and their physicality made an immediate impression. Marcus Smith was handed a simple penalty with 64 minutes on the clock and made it 22-13.
A period of Quins pressure ended with Lang, another Game changer introduced around the hour mark, broke through for his first Premiership try. He failed to convert the kick but with the score at 22-18 with eight minutes remaining the stage was set for a dramatic finish.
A Mallinder penalty, given for a Lasike offside with just four minutes to go again appeared to be closing out the game for Northampton. However the hosts conceded a crucial penalty in their own 22 with just two minutes left on the clock and the power of Bothma and Lasike looked like making the difference for Quins. Awarded a penalty in front of the posts with time up, they elected to go for the scrum and when Northampton managed to turn the ball over from the resulting ruck the game was over.