Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder praised his side’s never-say-die attitude as Ben Foden left it late to inflict a first home defeat of this Aviva Premiership Rugby season on Harlequins.
With time up Harlequins looked set to consolidate their top-four spot in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table even further as Ben Botica’s 72nd-minute penalty saw them leading 23-20.
But the replacement fly-half then failed to find touch, with visitors Saints then finding the ball into the hands of Foden who faked a pass before dotting over to secure a 27-23 victory, Northampton’s first Aviva Premiership Rugby win since New Year’s Day.
And Mallinder couldn’t have been prouder of his troops, even if her admitted the game was over when the clock ticked over to 80 minutes.
“What’s the expression? It’s never over until the final whistle and I guess that was never more true than today,” Mallinder said.
“When we got the penalty and kicked to the corner I thought we had a good chance of scoring from the maul but then you think that’s it, especially when they hook the ball and get it to the back you think it’s over.
“But somehow the ball didn't go out but great credit to Ben Foden and the rest of the lads out there to react and get that final score.”
Saints took the lead three times in an end-to-end first half, centre Luther Burrell reminding England head coach Eddie Jones of his talents by setting up a try for Harry Mallinder before crossing himself.
Harlequins also had two tries in the first half through George Merrick and Ross Chisholm, with Nick Evans and Stephen Myler adding the rest with their respective boots.
Evans added two more penalties to one from visiting JJ Hanrahan after the break, before Botica took centre stage with his penalty and then failure to kick the ball out.
And Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea was struggling to sum up his emotions come the final whistle.
“I cannot describe or put into words how I feel right now, I've never seen anything like it on a rugby field,” he said.
“Should we have been done and dusted and over the hill? Yes, because of how we played in the match as a whole, but we allowed ourselves to get pinned in in the last five minutes and then to have done the hard work and stop the maul and give it away.
“There are so many things I could go back over but we talk about what we can control, well that was nothing short of unbelievable and unforgivable.
“You just had to walk over the dead ball line, kick it over, we had the ball in our hands, it’s just a shame, it takes away so much of the brilliant rugby we played out there.
“Credit to Northampton for staying in the game, they should have been long gone, I don't think anyone who hasn't been here and witnessed that will believe what happened. We are just going to have to over the next 48 hours try and park it but it’s going to take time.”
Harlequins: Chisholm (Swiel 72), Yarde, Hopper, Sloan, Walker; Evans (Botica 63), Tebaldi, Lambert, Buchanan (Gray 40), Sinckler (Collier 72), Merrick, Horwill, Luamanu (Ward 60), Wallace, Easter
Replacements not used: Evans, Matthews, Waters
Northampton Saints: Foden, Pisi (Wilson 40), Burrell, Mallinder, Elliott; Myler (Hanrahan 63), Dickson (Kessell 75), A Waller (E Waller 65), Haywood, Brookes, Craig (Matfield 67), Day, Gibson, Wood, Dickinson (Harrison 65)
Replacements not used: Marshall, Denman
Tries: Merrick, Chisholm
Conversions: Evans 2
Penalties: Evans 2, Botica
Tries: Day, Burrell, Foden
Conversions: Myler 2, Hanrahan
Penalties: Myler, Hanrahan
Referee: Greg Garner