Director of rugby Jim Mallinder admitted production not possession was all that mattered as Northampton Saints kept themselves top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with a 30-25 defeat of Harlequins.
Saints, second ahead of kick-off for Big Game 7 at a sold out Twickenham after Bath Rugby’s defeat of Exeter Chiefs, conceded the majority of possession to Quins but were defensively strong and clinical when it mattered.
Samu Manoa, off to French giants Toulon at the end of the season, scored one and set up George North for another while Kahn Fotuali’i’s 72nd-minute score proved decisive for Saints.
That’s because Jack Clifford and replacement Sam Twomey rallied for Quins late in the second half with tries after George Lowe had started and finished off a sweeping move to give them a sixth-minute lead.
Stephen Myler converted all three of Northampton’s tries as well as kicking three penalties while Tim Swiel slotted two and two with Mallinder brushing aside the statistics stacked in Quins’ favour.
“It was very hard fought and, fair play to Harlequins, they attacked us for a full 80 minutes and in the first half defensively we were put under pressure and missed too many tackles,” he said.
“But that is sometimes what happens when you are on the back foot. Harlequins ran really well and fortunately in the second half our set piece got on top, we didn’t play too much but we kicked into the corner and kept things tight.
“Sometimes when you go away from home you don’t have to pay too much rugby and it is not all about how much ball you get, it is really what you do with it and that was our message at half-time.
“Even though we weren’t happy with the performance, we knew we were in the lead and we knew we had a strong bench to come on and that was always going to help us in the second half.”
Meanwhile Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea is adamant if his team continue to put in performances like the one at Twickenham they won’t find themselves down in eighth for too much longer.
“That was a massive statement, we wanted the guys to go out and play and they did. I thought the mentality and strength to come back when we conceded and still be going at the end was magnificent,” he said.
“We had ten minutes when we were really under the pump but defended our line magnificently and then kept on going. We know we have got an enormous mountain to climb in the league.
“But if we play like that we will win a lot of games of rugby and the belief will start flowing back. I am much happier than I have been on many, many occasions.
“There is huge frustration because you can point to all the little things that happened like the body blow after half-time with the charge down but if we play like that and have that ambition and mental strength will win a lot of games.”
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Hopper, Lowe, Monye (Chisholm R 67); Swiel, Care; Lambert, Ward (Gray 67), Collier; Matthews, Robson (Twomey 63); Trayfoot, Clifford (Chisholm J 77), Easter
Replacements: Marfo, Sinckler, Dickson, Casson
Northampton Saints: Foden; Pisi K, Pisi G (Stephenson 48), Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (Fotuali’i 54 (Wilson 72)); Waller (Corbisiero 54), Haywood, Ma'afu (Denman 60); Dickinson, Day; Clark (Dowson 60), Wood, Manoa
Replacements: McMillan, Nutley
Tries: Lowe, Clifford, Twomey
Conversions: Swiel 2
Penalties: Swiel 2
Tries: Manoa, North, Fotuali’i
Conversions: Myler 3
Penalties: Myler 3
Referee: Wayne Barnes