George North scored the opening try of the night for Northampton Saints
3 January 2014, 09:53 pm ::
By David Jordan
Northampton Saints 23 Harlequins 9
George North and Dylan Hartley scored second-half tries as Northampton Saints marched to the top of the Aviva Premiership with victory over Harlequins.
In a physical, if flat, first half Saints No.10 Stephen Myler and opposite number Nick Evans traded penalties to send the sides in 6-6 at the break.
However, things heated up in the second 40 minutes with North storming over for his second try in as many weekends before Hartley, in front of the watching England coach Stuart Lancaster, ensured victory in the closing stages.
The win maintained the Saints' perfect start to the Aviva Premiership season at home and lifted the league's form team one point clear of Saracens.
From the first whistle Northampton went on the offensive, moving the ball right to left and then back again with North punching holes in the Harlequins defence.
After going through 12 phases Nick Easter was penalised for failing to roll away and Myler slotted the Saints' first three points.
Quins were level three minutes later when Evans slotted a penalty of his own and the Kiwi booted his side ahead after 18 minutes. First Tim Molenaar and then Tom Guest broke the Saints line and in the ensuing chaos George Robson and Chris Robshaw were tackled just short of the line before Saints were penalised and Evans stepped up.
However, Quins were down to 14 men soon when Guest was sin-binned for coming in from the side as Saints threatened to drive over the whitewash from a lineout.
While the weather was inflating the error count neither side could be faulted for their physicality and Saints levelled thanks to trademark breaks from their two biggest battering rams.
First Samu Manoa took the ball on the run from a lineout and while Quins managed to halt the No.8, Courtney Lawes took on the charge and while Robshaw stopped his England colleague he conceded a penalty in the process.
Myler made no error with the penalty from in front of the posts and after a stop-start first 40 minutes the two sides headed into the dressing rooms all square.
Quins lost Evans to injury at the break with fellow New Zealander Ben Botica taking over at fly-half.
And it was Saints that launched the first meaningful attack of the second half, Lee Dickson knocking on with the line gaping he was bailed out by an error from his brother, and Quins scrum-half, Karl.
His clearing kick from the resulting scrum failed to find touch and even worse it landed in the hands of North who blasted his opposite man Charlie Walker out of his way before sliding over.
Myler kicked a superb conversion from the touchline and after 45 minutes Northampton led 13-6.
The momentum was now with Northampton and they could have extended their lead on 55 minutes only for Myler, who appeared to be struggling with an injury, to pull his kick wide and Botica then reduced the gap to 13-9.
Then, after a furious passage of play that featured a monster hit from Joe Marler on North and saw the TMO check for a series of offences, Myler kicked another penalty.
The officials were busy again with ten minutes to go when first former Northampton Saint Paul Doran Jones was sin-binned for bringing down a maul and then Hartley put Saints out of touch.
After seeing his lineout knocked over the Quins tryline by Robson, Hartley reacted quickest to dot the ball down and Myler converted with the help of the crossbar.
Saints also finished with 14 men after George Pisi was sin-binned for a high tackle but by then the game was won.